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SPRINGFIELD-Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) took questions after the Senate adjourned for the regular session and broke down the root of the pension debacle at the Capitol. Radogno also opined on Gov. Pat Quinn's involvement, or lack thereof, in fixing the pension problem. The following is a transcript of most of the interview.

Q: What happened?
A: "It's more like, 'what didn't happen.'"

"Obviously, there were some good things that happened...But I really believe that every positive thing is absolutely overshadowed by the catastrophic failure to accomplish pension reform."

Q: What will the legislative leaders and Quinn have to talk about?
A: "Well, it'll be an interesting meeting. I mean, it will be the first one in a long time, which is unfortunate. We should have been doing it all along."

"I had wished that the governor had called everybody together much, much earlier in the session. I mean, it just seems incredible to me that this deadline's been blown."

"I can't lay it all at the governor's feet. I mean, let's face it. The Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers plus the governor's mansion. We've had downgrades. We've talked about this for two years. It's not as if this was unknown."

"It's absolutely malfeasance. It's incredible."

Q: Whats at the root of not getting reform? Questions of constitutionality, numbers/savings, battle of personalities, all of the above?
A: "All of the above I would say. I mean, I think there is a little bit of all of that."

Q: What stands out?
A: "I mean, I think there's a real sincere difference in opinion in the framework, but I also think that there's also a personality issue here that's going to have to be resolved."

Q: How?
A: "Well, that's a good question. I don't know. I mean, I don't know what it's going to take, if it's going to take another downgrade. I certainly hope it doesn't mean more problems for the state, but it may."

Q: You mean personality issues between Madigan and Cullerton?
A: "Yeah."

Q: But Cullerton said they talk all the time...
A: "They may talk all the time. I mean, that's wonderful, but the problem is they're not talking about the problem, trying to solve it and figure out a way around it."

SPRINGFIELD-No major pension reform passed out of Springfield. But several Senate Democrats smiled as they left the Capitol, looking down at the William Crook Jr. paintings they held in their hands that depicted themselves collectively sitting in the Senate chamber.

The paintings were a gift from Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) to his 40-member caucus. The following is a transcript of Cullerton's answers to some of the questions he took after adjournment.

"...We do have the largest number of Democratic senators in the history of the state of Illinois. We worked real hard to get this group together, and it's a very closely-knit group. And I think we've had a great session with the cooperation of Republicans on a number of issues. And we've had a successful session. Obviously, the biggest disappointment was not passing a pension reform bill out of both chambers. Obviously, each chamber passed a bill. And I think I voted for every one of the pension bills that we voted on in the Senate trying to pass something on."

"I credit the governor for making it a top priority. I'm sure he's very frustrated we weren't able to pass it, but it's very, very difficult. It's probably the most difficult bill that you can possibly pass."

Q: Is any session short of pension reform an unsuccessful session?
A: "I wouldn't say it - that's one issue, a major issue we were unsuccessful in. But we did pass a number of other bills."

Q: How do you resolve the pension issue?
A: "I don't know. I've tried everything. I introduced Senate Bill 1 that combined both different bills which eventually passed each chamber."

Q: Do you place the blame on House Speaker Michael Madigan?
A: "Of course not. Of course not."

"The real disappointment is we don't even have a test case to go to the court because the business community was fighting that as well. It had to be their test case. So this is why it's so difficult. It's not because we didn't try, and there's no blame to go around. People have different positions, and it's difficult to get 30 votes on them."

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn, who has beaten the drum for pension reform since taking office in 2009, lashed out at the state Legislature's two Democratic leaders for engaging in a "game" that failed this spring to solve the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

"The people of Illinois want the General Assembly to put comprehensive pension reform on my desk," Quinn said in a prepared statement after the Illinois House adjourned for the summer. "They do not want legislative leaders to play a $17 million-a-day game with the future of our state, our children and our economy."

Quinn mocked efforts by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) for entertaining a legislative bid by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to secure a two-year break from making pension payments to the Chicago teachers retirement fund.

"There is something wrong in Illinois when the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate could join together to propose a pension holiday for Chicago, yet they could not send a comprehensive pension reform bill to my desk," the governor said.

Quinn cited a report from a Moody's Investor Services analyst who hinted at another bond-rating downgrade to sink Illinois' already worst-in-the-nation creditworthiness even farther.

The governor didn't directly address the prospect of a special legislative session to deal with pensions like the one-day session he called last August that led to nothing. While a senior aide earlier this week all but ruled out the possibility, Quinn's camp was reassessing that thinking late Friday.

"I can confirm for you that everything is on the table," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

In his statement, Quinn said he intended within days to convene a meeting with the four legislative leaders to figure out the next step in the state's long-enduring fiscal saga.

"This is wrong," Quinn said. "I will call the legislative leaders together in the coming week to forge a comprehensive pension reform agreement."

ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_39364233.JPGHouse Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), pictured in this file photo from last week, acknowledged the Legislature's spring-time failures before adjourning his legislative chamber Friday. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-House Speaker Michael Madigan acknowledged Friday what was plain to see for virtually anyone watching the Statehouse the past few months: This vintage of lawmakers has been a do-little bunch.

Before delivering his brief remarks about this General Assembly's failures, Madigan (D-Chicago) drew an indirect swipe from his GOP counterpart, House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), about the failure to strike a deal on what arguably has been the spring session's most dominant issue, pension reform.

"This is a session where we have not enjoyed a great deal of success. That's very obvious," Madigan (D-Chicago) told the House chamber before adjourning for the summer with nothing to show on pensions or same-sex marriage.

Cross contrasted Madigan's reputation as a master legislative tactician with the failure to get a pension bill to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.

"Mr. Speaker, you've been seen as and described as the best chess player in the building, a master, brilliant, 10 steps ahead of everybody else and when you want to get something done, you always seem to find a way to get it done, and I say that with the utmost respect for your ability, both politically and policy-wise and otherwise," Cross said.

"I don't know why we haven't done pensions. I don't get it," Cross said, his voice trailing off with a hint of sarcasm.

Madigan insisted that he and his 71-member Democratic caucus that runs the House don't intend to give up in tackling pension reform or any other unresolved issue.

The failure "doesn't mean we're going to walk away from our responsibility," Madigan said. "It means, as Leader Cross said, that huge problems remain. And what we are going to be called upon to do is to give as much effort and dedication to the solution to those problems as we go forward as we have in the past.

"I don't think we should take our lack of success today as a reason to give up. I think we ought to rededicate ourselves to the task at hand. We're all available when needed, and I think I speak for all of us that we will remain dedicated to the task at hand, and we're available to take the tough votes, as we did in the House."


With reporting from Natasha Korecki

SPRINGFIELD -- State Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) told the Chicago Sun-Times that he does not plan to call a massive gaming bill that would bring a Chicago casino and four other casinos in Illinois.

Taking gambling off the table leaves little hope that Gov. Quinn will have any leverage left to motivate lawmakers to come up with a last-minute compromise on pensions.

Rita said it was a fairness issue in the legislation and wanted more time to study it and talk to all the stakeholders.

Rita said he plans to call public hearings on the matter in upcoming months.

"We need to come up with a fair bill," Rita told the Sun-Times. "So I'm not going to call the bill this session and use this as a building block to work with all the parties."

Gov. Pat Quinn had said this session he would not consider gaming expansion unless lawmakers gave him pension reform. Taking gaming off the table almost certainly means there's little hope for pension reform.


But once Rita had declared the legislation dead, the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), told reporters that he never heard Quinn actually say pension reform must precede a gaming bill.

Regardless of Quinn's intentions, Link indicated the bill's coffin may have been nailed shut when its former chief House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), dropped his name from the measure due to a potential conflict of interest.

"Getting educated was [Rita's] biggest problem," Link told reporters. He said Rita's changes to the bill were "ridiculous" and included "a bunch of other things that were not necessarily agreed on."

The bill's biggest problem? Greed, Link said. "Everybody sees this golden pot of money, and they all want part of it," he said.

"If I was to put in everything that everybody asked for, we would be in negative funds after passing the bill...So, you just have to tell people, respectfully, 'no, we cant do that.'"

Specifically, Link cited Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to allow Cook County to receive a portion of revenues from a Chicago casino.

The proposed gaming expansion would have brought a casino in Chicago, as well as four others in the suburbs, as well as slot machines in race tracks and two Chicago airports.

SPRINGFIELD-A special session to solve Illinois' $97 billion pension crisis looks unlikely with just hours remaining in the Legislature's regular session, according to one top Senate Democrat.

"We've been taken hostage before. It doesn't ever work out terribly well," said Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), a member of Senate President John Cullerton's (D-Chicago) leadership team.

While a Democratic House member had minutes earlier called on Gov. Pat Quinn to call a special session of the General Assembly until pension reform is passed, Harmon indicated the problem would now be left in the hands of legislative leaders.

"I have no doubt that if we were to adjourn that discussions would continue beyond adjournment," he said.

The Senate Thursday overwhelmingly defeated a bill championed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and has passed its own version of pension reform touted by Cullerton. But Madigan has yet to call Cullerton's bill for a vote in the House.

"There's a bill in the House right now. I'm not sure what there is for the Senate to do right now," Harmon said. "I think we have fairly clearly laid out the options."

Harmon was hesitant to pin all the blame on Madigan for not passing pension reform, but he made it clear that the two chambers may still be far from an agreement.

"They take fundamentally different approaches," he said of the two competing plans. "There is a principal, intellectual disagreement as to the path to pension reform."

"We've made great progress. We're not done yet. If you look back in a year or two people will understand how difficult this was."

SPRINGFIELD-Senate President John Cullerton issued the following statement on pensions as it looks less and less likely there will be any agreement on a pension-reform package before Friday night's scheduled legislative adjournment:

"When I became Senate President I took an oath to uphold the constitution and I made a promise to make the Senate an open chamber where member legislation gets a fair hearing. Anyone following the issue of pension reform can confirm that I have honored those commitments this session.

I personally have worked to craft reform proposals that might satisfy the constitution and while achieving considerable savings. To date the Senate has worked to pass five different pieces of legislation designed to reform our systems within the confines of the constitution. Not one of these plans was brought to the House floor for a vote.

My preference for adhering to the plain language of the constitution hasn't prevented me from working with other leaders who interpret the pension clause differently. That's been evidenced by the fact that I refused to block votes on opposing pension plans.

I crafted a compromise plan that would have made unilateral cuts the law while including a default constitutional savings plan. I then voted for a second plan and sponsored a third plan to impose unilateral cuts pension benefits.

As Senate President, I could have buried those proposals to satisfy my personal political philosophy. That is not why I am Senate President and that is not how I lead.

The Senate has spoken repeatedly and consistently on pension reform. Still, this issue is not resolved. I am committed to staying at the table until a comprehensive solution is passed into law. I invite Governor Quinn, Speaker Madigan and all leaders of the General Assembly to continue with me.

SPRINGFIELD-In a bid to improve school bus safety, the Illinois General Assembly sent Gov. Pat Quinn a bill allowing schools to equip buses with cameras over accusations that the idea was merely a ploy to profit the city of Chicago.

In a 38-16 vote with two voting present, the Illinois Senate passed the bill, which passed the House by a 64-54 vote just hours earlier on the Legislature's final day of session.

"Let me be clear. It is up to the school districts if they want to implement this," Senate sponsor Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) said. "They don't have to do this."

Under the plan, school districts could partner with cities and counties to outfit their school buses with cameras, which would photograph the license plate numbers of vehicles that drive around a bus that has its 'stop' arm deployed while students are getting on or off.

The bill provides that money from any fines collected under the voluntary program would be equally divided between the school district and the city or county administering the program.

Motorists would face a fine of $150 for a first-time offense and fines of $500 for any subsequent violations. Motorists caught by the cameras would not face moving violations as they would if a police officer witnessed them going around a stopped bus.

Munoz made it clear that his proposal would not be subject to the same kind of scandal that plagued Chicago's red-light camera program.

"There is not one company in this," he said. "It is up to the school districts to pick who they want as a vendor."


With reporting from Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD -- State Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) told the Chicago Sun-Times that he does not plan to call a massive gaming bill that would bring a Chicago casino and four other casinos in Illinois.

Taking gambling off the table leaves little hope that Gov. Quinn will have any leverage left to motivate lawmakers to come up with a last-minute compromise on pensions.

Rita said it was a fairness issue in the legislation and wanted more time to study it and talk to all the stakeholders.

Rita said he plans to call public hearings on the matter in upcoming months.

"We need to come up with a fair bill," Rita told the Sun-Times. "So I'm not going to call the bill this session and use this as a building block to work with all the parties."

Gov. Pat Quinn had said this session he would not consider gaming expansion unless lawmakers gave him pension reform. Taking gaming off the table almost certainly means there's little hope for pension reform.


But once Rita had declared the legislation dead, the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), told reporters that he never heard Quinn actually say pension reform must precede a gaming bill.

Regardless of Quinn's intentions, Link indicated the bill's coffin may have been nailed shut when its former chief House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), dropped his name from the measure due to a potential conflict of interest.

"Getting educated was [Rita's] biggest problem," Link told reporters. He said Rita's changes to the bill were "ridiculous" and included "a bunch of other things that were not necessarily agreed on."

The bill's biggest problem? Greed, Link said. "Everybody sees this golden pot of money, and they all want part of it," he said.

"If I was to put in everything that everybody asked for, we would be in negative funds after passing the bill...So, you just have to tell people, respectfully, 'no, we cant do that.'"

Specifically, Link cited Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to allow Cook County to receive a portion of revenues from a Chicago casino.

The proposed gaming expansion would have brought a casino in Chicago, as well as four others in the suburbs, as well as slot machines in race tracks and two Chicago airports.

In the closing hours of the session, the elusive Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan walked out of his office and toward the House chamber, then turned back when an aide signaled he wasn't yet needed.

Madigan, who has been working behind the scenes and not very visible these past few days in the chamber over which he rules was asked if same-sex marriage would be called for a vote.

"I'm for it," he said wryly.

When pressed he would only repeat: "I'm for it."

Then asked about gaming he gave the same answer: "I'm for it."

He then turned his key in the door and disappeared.

Meanwhile, throngs of people are packed into the Illinois House gallery awaiting a vote on gay marriage -- or Senate Bill 10.

With just hours remaining in the session, no deal has been reached on pensions or gaming.

The legislature did send a concealed carry bill to the governor, however.

SPRINGFIELD-After six months of debate, the question of whether Illinois gun owners should be allowed to carry their weapons in public places now rests with Gov. Pat Quinn.

The state House Friday voted 89-28 to approve a compromise gun deal that preserves local gun laws, including Chicago and Cook County's bans on assault weapons, and keeps gun owners from carrying their loaded weapons on public trains and buses.

But it hands gun owners a potent new right that would end the state's last-in-the-nation prohibition on concealed carry and, in the eyes of gun-rights advocates, put a dent in the state's crime rates.

"This is a very historic day. I never thought this day would come," said Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), a gun-rights advocate at the center of concealed-carry negotiations.

"Crime has gone down in every state that has had concealed carry," Phelps said.

The House's action came after the Senate voted 45-12, with one voting present.

Quinn has kept his intentions about concealed-carry close to the vest. On Friday, as the legislation took a fast-track path through the Senate and House, his administration expressed neutrality toward the bill.

Asked whether he'd sign it, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson would say only, "The governor will review the bill once it reaches his desk."

The Legislature and Quinn face a June 9 deadline imposed by a federal appeals court in Chicago to change the state's prohibition against allowing gun owners to carry their weapons in public areas.

SPRINGFIELD-Against the will of Gov. Pat Quinn, an Illinois House committee Friday approved a measure to authorize Chicago Public Schools to short payments for two years to its severely underfunded pension system in order to avoid classroom cuts.

By a 6-4 vote along party lines, the House Personnel and Pensions Committee advanced a bill that its sponsor, Rep. Elaine Nekrtiz (D-Northbrook), called a way to give CPS "a little breathing room." The bill now moves to the House floor, and it will have to pass there and in the Senate before moving to Quinn's desk.

"This is a very difficult bill, and it's continuing sort of the bad practices of the past," Nekritz said. "I think we don't have any option on that, but it's on a path toward success."

Those bad practices Nekritz referred to include pension "holidays" taken not only by CPS in the past, but also by the state.

CPS contributed no money to the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund from 1995 to 2005. As a result, its nearly 100-percent funded system dipped to a 54-percent funding level by 2012.

Under Nekrtiz's bill, partly negotiated by the Legislature's top two Democrats, the State Board of Education would have to contribute $200 million in fiscal year 2013, $350 million the next year and $500 million the year after that. The system would then be subject to a pension 'ramp' to require funding to make the system 90-percent funded by 2061.

Peter Rogers, CPS chief financial officer, could not predict how the inevitable hit to the system will affect its credit-rating but said "the anticipation of the rating agencies is high."

Rogers called possible property-tax increases "not something that breaks the bank" but said the pension "relief" is necessary for CPS to craft a budget by August before classes resume in September.

"If we don't do anything today, the budget of Chicago schools will be in chaos in August," he said.

Same-sex marriage: Tense crowd awaits vote

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Months of lobbying, robo-calls, polls and other kinds of wooing have led us to the final hours of the session. With dozens of people waiting in the Illinois House gallery, there's a large question looming: Will the Illinois House call same-sex marriage for a vote?

Reporters are asking lawmakers; lawmakers are asking reporters. Lobbyists and advocates are seated outside the Speaker's office, hands folded in laps or legs bouncing.

The House gallery, meanwhile, is teeming with people here to watch the debate. For the last several hours, people are snaking down the steps in line, hoping someone will vacate a seat and let them in.

Meanwhile, there's talk that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is making behind-the-scenes calls to move some votes.

If Illinois is to pass same-sex marriage legislation, it will become the 13th state to do so.

Opposition has not been quiet, including from a portion of the African American community. Rev. James Meeks has recorded two rounds of robo-calls urging a "no" vote on the issue.

Sponsor Greg Harris (D-Chicago) has said he believes the bill has enough support to pass. He needs 60 votes. Just two Republicans are publicly on board with voting yes.

Live updates from our correspondents in Springfield on today's final day of the legislative session. Meanwhile, watch live video of the State House and State Senate.

With reporting from Dave McKinney

SPRINGFIELD-A key Senate panel Friday approved a plan pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn to allow McPier to build a 10,000-seat, $173 million DePaul University basketball arena that would double as a venue for trade shows and conventions.

By a 10-5 vote, the panel advanced to the full Senate floor what has been called a "Christmas-tree bill" for its array of pork-projects tacked to it. The measure passed the House Thursday by an 81-35 vote, and Quinn said he'd sign it if it passes the Senate.

The massive, 371-page bill is being carried by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who touted the bill as an economic development package.

The plan extends a deadline on a tax-increment financing district and allows bonds already authorized to be used for convention activities and hotels to extend to land acquisition for and construction of the multi-purpose arena.

"This is a real partnership...We're both getting something that we need," said Jim Reilly, CEO of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, who testified on behalf of the bill. "We need it for events. They need it for basketball, and by partnering, we're getting something we couldn't otherwise have."

Cullerton's legislation, backed by Will County, also permits the Illinois Department of Transportation to enter into a series of public-private agreements with contractors to develop and operate the long-stalled, proposed south-suburban airport in Peotone.

Additionally, the legislation contains provisions authorizing $3 million in annual funding during the next six years to transform the south suburban Brownfield area into an intermodal facility and granting Rosemont new borrowing authority for convention center renovations.

As in the House, Senate Republicans were concerned about how the bill only just surfaced this week for their review.

"I do have some concerns about the way this has come together," Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said. "In the end it may be okay, but for now I have to be a 'no' until we have more information."

It's a big day for the Illinois General Assembly ahead of tonight's adjournment. With gay marriage and concealed carry bills on the agenda, it could be a big, historic day. Watch live video of the state senate below.

Want the State House? Go here.

In a 64 to 54 vote, Illinois House members gave a nod to outfitting school buses with cameras.

It sailed through the House with little debate compared to the sniping that erupted on the Senate floor when that chamber passed the bill last month.

Opponents have said the measure is only another layer of potential Big Brother fines tied to Red Light cameras.

Under the plan, school districts would be given the authority to partner with cities and counties in equipping school buses with the cameras, which would photograph vehicles and their license plate numbers if they go around a bus with its "stop" arm deployed as students are boarding.

Motorists would face a fine of $150 for a first-time offense and fines of $500 for any subsequent violations. Any motorists ensnared by the bus cameras wouldn't face moving violations as they would if a police officer witnessed them going around a stopped bus.

It's a big day for the Illinois General Assembly ahead of tonight's adjournment. With gay marriage and concealed carry bills on the agenda, it could be a big, historic day. Watch live video of the state house below.

Want the State Senate? Go here.

State Sen. Gary Forby
Photo by Seth Perlman/AP

**Updated with committee vote**

With Reporting from Zach Buchheit


The latest negotiated concealed-carry push surfaced in the Senate Executive Committee this morning, where the bill (House BIll 183) eked out by an 8-6 vote.

The majority of debate focused on the bill's provision that would preempt any local municipalities' laws relating to handguns. While local ordinances unrelated to handguns, like Chicago's ban on assault weapons, would not be affected, local laws that might ban handguns using more than 10 bullets, for example, would be moot under this bill.

"Because we have to have a law on the books, could you have not found a better way to balance the law so that it could benefit many of us who are in areas where local ordinances matter and need to stay intact?" implored Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood).

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton), said the part of the bill restricting home-rule communities like Chicago, more than 100 of which already have firearm laws on the books, was a deal worked out with the city of Chicago.

"Everybody agreed this is something nobody liked," he said. "Every side, no matter what side you're on...nobody wanted to go off the cliff."


A new concealed carry bill will be up in Senate Executive Committee this morning at 11:15, according to the Senate President's office. The bill is being carried by Sen. Gary Forby -- a Downstate gun rights advocate (D-Benton) in a showing of compromise. Lawmakers are racing against a June 9th deadline set by the courts, which struck down Illinois' concealed carry ban.

Here's a link to the newly-filed amendment: Click here

It has "shall issue" language -- that's language that gun rights advocates have insisted on.

Public transit: The bill bans carrying a concealed weapons on any public transit.

Liquor: It bans concealed carry in most bars -- or where 50 percent or more of revenues come from liquor sales.

Training: Requires 16 hours of training for the permit, including some time on the range.

**$150 application fee

**Banned - Schools, govt buildings, public transit, public parks, playgrounds, Cook County Forest Preserve District grounds, community colleges and universities, casinos and racetracks, amusement parks, zoos, stadiums/arenas

**Cannot carry while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

**Penalty - Class A misdemeanor for first or second violations, Class 4 felony for a third

**Concealed carry would also be banned from public gatherings, but permit-holders could carry through a gathering if necessary to get to work, their homes or vehicles.

**Local law enforcement may object to an applicant "based upon a reasonable suspicion that the applicant is a danger to himself or herself or others, or a threat to public safety."

**Police must object if applicant has five or more arrests in last seven years or three or more gang-related arrests in last seven years
**Licensing Review Board considers any objections to an application
**Board consists of seven members appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. Here's how that breaks down: 1 former federal judge (five years experience), 2 former federal attorneys (five years experience), 3 federal agents (5 years experience), one mental health expert (5 years experience).


***Updated with Cullerton reaction ***

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said the Illinois Senate's failure to advance a pension reform measure he backed showed "a lack of leadership," in that chamber.

The Chicago Sun-Times caught up with Chicago Democrat just moments after the Illinois Senate torpedoed his pension reform plan.

When asked what he thought of the vote he initially responded: "not much."

Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton each advanced competing bills to solve the state's pension crisis. Madigan argued his went further in bringing savings, while Cullerton insisted that his version -- backed by unions -- was constitutional.

Could pension reform be salvaged? Could a compromise be reached?
That was the compromise, Madigan said of his plan: "It just failed in the Senate."

"The issue was always about cost savings," Madigan said. "I'm very disappointed."

Madigan said the failed measure signaled something else in the Senate.
"It's a lack of leadership," he went on to say that it took him one month, one month and a half to build consensus in his chamber and get the measure passed even though not everyone was happy with it.

"The Speaker and President Cullerton have different leadership styles. Let's leave it at that," said Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon.

Madigan walked out the Capitol's front doors apparently en route to a meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn.

"I'm going to the mansion," he said.

Senate Republicans backed the bill, saying it wasn't perfect but it was the closest compromise out there.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard shook his head, telling the Sun-Times that the state's pension turmoil was on the cusp of a massive improvement -- before the failure.

"We were one hour away from finally putting us on a road to fiscal solvency," Dillard said, predicting it would have taken that long for it to win approval. "I find it incredible he cannot find six votes on his side of the aisle to pass this measure."

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House Thursday passed a plan requiring public universities and community colleges to gradually begin picking up the tab for their employees' pensions starting next year.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), passed with just enough votes by a 60-55 margin over concerns that the extra burden on schools would spur property-tax and tuition increases. The bill now moves to the Senate.

"We need to ensure that, like every employer in the private sector, the employer takes account of the full cost of wages and benefits," Nekritz said. "This bill makes the employer responsible for the full cost of the wages and benefits. It's the right thing to do."

Under the plan, long-sought by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the state's public universities and community colleges would pay an additional one-half percent of payroll costs each year starting July 1, 2014 until they cover all costs. The schools would not have to cover any previous pension payments the state failed to make.

Any new benefits to the pension system would have to be approved by a three-fourths vote in the Legislature, up from what is currently approved by a simple majority. If the Legislature approves new benefits, they would then be subject to a vote by the pension systems board of trustees and then each school itself.

The plan does not shift pension costs for elementary and secondary schools outside of Chicago, but Madigan has said that idea is impending. The cost-shift has been part of more sweeping past pension packages but has been perennially rejected by Republicans and suburban and Downstate Democrats.

In a fiery debate where one Republican House member voiced his hope that any members who supported the bill would be hunted by "a person who comes after you like a rabid dog," many opponents thought the measure premature since the prospects of overall pension reform remain uncertain.

"Before we go down any road, any road whatsoever on cost-shift, we need real, substantive pension reform, and that hasn't happened," House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said. "And now we come along and say to the universities we want you to be involved with fixing a problem created by the Illinois General Assembly. Welcome to our mess."

Madigan-backed pension fails in Illinois Senate

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***Update ***

Senate Bill 1 just failed in the senate debate.

In a last-minute switch, a comprehensive pension reform bill backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is being heard on the Senate floor right now -- instead of the Senate Executive Committee.

The change-up seemed to surprise some members of Gov. Quinn's office who were waiting for the bill to be called in the committee and headed to the Senate floor appearing surprised.

Republicans surmised before the floor debate began that Senate President John Cullerton was calling the bill for a vote so it would meet its swift demise.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard shook his head, telling the Sun-Times that the state's pension turmoil was on the cusp of a massive improvement.

"We were one hour away from finally putting us on a road to fiscal solvency," Dillard said, predicting it would have taken that long for it to win approval. "I find it incredible he cannot find six votes on his side of the aisle to pass this measure."

During the debate, Republicans pushed for the measure to pass while Democrats pointed to Cullerton's long-contention that the measure was not constitutional.

"Quite frankly, ladies and gentleman, it is showtime right now," said GOP Illinois Sen. Christine Radogno, urging passage. "It is the most comprehensive one we've seen."

SPRINGFIELD-A push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to authorize McPier to build a $173 million basketball arena for DePaul University that would double as an "event center" for mid-size conventions advanced in the Illinois House Tuesday.

The proposal was contained in an expansive, 371-page economic development package carried by state Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) and that passed the House Revenue & Finance Committee by a 6-3 vote. It now awaits a full House vote.

"This is a jobs bill," Bradley said. "The notion of this is to create economic activity and jobs throughout the state of Illinois."

It extends a deadline on tax-increment financing district and allows bonds already authorized to be used for convention activities and hotels to extend to land acquisition for and construction of the 10,000-seat DePaul basketball arena.

Emanuel's administration, DePaul and Gov. Pat Quinn's administration expressed support for the package Thursday.

Bradley's legislation, backed by Will County, also permits the Illinois Department of Transportation to enter into a series of public-private agreements with contractors to develop and operate the long-stalled, proposed south-suburban airport in Peotone.

Additionally, the legislation contains provisions authorizing $3 million in annual funding during the next six years to transform south suburban brownfield area into an intermodal facility and granting Rosemont new borrowing authority for convention center renovations.

Lobbyist Jack Dorgan is the front-runner in the search for the new GOP Chair to replace Pat Brady, several Republican sources said Thursday.

The Illinois Republican Committee is to vote for its new leader in a Saturday meeting in Springfield.

Dorgan, who is also a Rosemont Village Trustee, does not yet have the needed 50 percent-plus-one majority votes from the panel, but he's closer than the remaining seven candidates, a knowledgeable source told the Sun-Times. Attorney Mark Shaw, businessman Jim Nalepa, Angel Garcia, Don Tracy, Lori Yokoyama and Joe Walsh are others still on list.

-- Other developments: Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, who was once rumored to be the front-runner, has withdrawn his name from contention.

-- Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh is the only candidate not to provide a resume yet and is not actively calling people asking for support. (It's thought that a party leadership role would threaten Walsh's new radio gig).

-- Each candidate will have five minutes to address the public before the committee goes into private session with the candidates.

Durkin gunning for House Minority Leadership post

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durkin_may30.jpgWith ramped-up talk that House Republican Minority Leader Tom Cross is moving toward a statewide run for Illinois Attorney General, state Rep. Jim Durkin said he's ready to fill the void.

Earlier this year, Durkin (R-Westchester) a former prosecutor and current corporate litigation attorney, was said to be interested himself in a run for Illinois Attorney General.

On Thursday, however, he said this: "I am pursuing the position as House Minority Leader, if and when that vacancy occurs -- that may be in the near future," Durkin told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cross (R-Plainfield) has been assembling a team and talking to leading Republicans statewide, asking for financial backing for a statewide run.

The news comes as Durkin, 52, announced he would not back a vote on same-sex marriage. "I'll be voting no."

Meanwhile the list of possible contenders for Illinois Attorney General post -- should Lisa Madigan step down -- continues to grow.

Other possibilities on the list for Democrats: former federal prosecutor and City of Chicago inspector general David Hoffman, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, State Sen. Kwame Raoul.

AP Photo/Seth Perlman

House votes to ban cops from using drones

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SPRINGFIELD-With almost no debate, the Illinois House Thursday passed the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, which would prohibit police from using unmanned aircrafts to gather information with a few exceptions.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), breezed through the House by a 105-12 vote and now moves to the Senate.

"The idea here is to address this proactively and to ensure that the privacy protections for citizens are in ensure that the privacy protections afforded to us in the Constitution under the First and the Fourth Amendments are in tact," Williams said.

Under the plan, police could use drones in certain cases such as to counter a terrorist attack, locate a missing person or gather information specifically for crime scenes and traffic crash scene photography.

Police would have to demonstrate probable cause and first obtain a warrant, which would last no more than 45 days. Police could use drones without a warrant in certain emergencies but for no more than 48 hours.

All information gathered by a drone would be destroyed within 30 days unless there is reason to believe it contains evidence of criminal activity or is part of an ongoing investigation. However, none of that information would be admissible in a court of law if the court finds that police gathered the data illegally.

Williams said she knows of at least two law enforcement agencies in Illinois that are exploring and testing the idea and that a number of states already have laws to limit their use. She also said drones are becoming less invasive with better technology.

"At this point, drones are getting smaller. They're getting cheaper. They come in a variety of types with a variety of uses," Williams said.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which last month passed a similar plan by a 52-1 vote. If passed there, the bill would go to Gov. Pat Quinn, whose office was not immediately available for comment.

SPRINGFIELD-A House-passed plan that Speaker Michael Madigan has endorsed to fix Illinois' nearly $100 billion crisis contains a flaw that could amount to a legislative stake-in-the-heart in the state Senate, the top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said the legislation contains a provision that eventually could leave retired suburban and downstate teachers with less in benefits than they are legally entitled to if they qualified for Social Security benefits, potentially forcing teachers and the school districts that employ them to begin paying into Social Security.

"It's just a problem. It's another negative on the bill, if it's true," Cullerton told reporters Wednesday evening.

The issue was raised by the state Teachers' Retirement System in a financial analysis it and three other state retirement systems produced on the financial impact of Madigan's Senate Bill 1. That assessment showed that pension package would save the state $187 billion in payments during the next 30 years, triple what a Senate-passed plan that has stalled in the House offers.

Thursday is shaping up as a pivotal day in the Senate on pensions, with Cullerton saying he intends to survey his 40-member caucus on Senate Bill 1 and other pension-reform options

One of those options may involve three obscure bills that the House passed in March and that quietly began moving in the state Senate Tuesday evening.

Legislation to hike the retirement age for employees under 45, cap "pensionable" salaries at Social Security wages and delay when retirees can get compounding, annual cost-of-living increases was discharged from the Senate Assignments Committee.

The House passed all three bills in March in a series of test votes on pensions to gauge support for a comprehensive pension-reform package. The three bills contain key pieces of what eventually got put into Senate Bill 1, which has faced a flurry of intense union opposition.

"All legislative options for a comprehensive plan are being considered," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

It's "time to look at every possible pension solution with the caucus so that we can chart a way forward," she said.

The three bills passed the House with bi-partisan support in mid-March but have remained bottled up in Senate committee until late Tuesday. If the Senate were to pass the three piecemeal pension plans that moved out of the House in March, they would go directly to the governor.

How much the three House bills passed in March would save collectively isn't entirely clear. They are House Bill 1154, House Bill 1165 and House Bill 1166.

2013-05-29_11-24-25_74.jpgRep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), pictured here (bottom, right) at the Capitol Wednesday, discussed two major areas of dispute standing in the way of passing his gambling expansion bill, which includes a casino in Chicago. Also pictured (clockwise from Rita) are Reps. Will Davis (D-Homewood), Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields), Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City) and Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights). (photo by Zach Buchheit/Sun-Times Media)


SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House Democrats Wednesday revealed two major hiccups in an effort to bring a casino to Chicago, including who will regulate it and how its revenue will be allotted in Cook County, stalling the perennially-sought gambling expansion legislation in the House.

The first of the two roadblocks surfaced Tuesday when Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe said the gambling bill did not contain nearly enough ethical oversight and that a bid for a Chicago casino should be severed from the larger bill.

But Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island), the bill's lead House sponsor, said removing Chicago from the bill would most definitely subtract enough votes to kill the bill altogether.

"Let me be clear," Rita told reporters Wednesday. "Chicago is going to be in this bill."

The problem with Jaffe's remarks is it's unclear if the board chairman is solely speaking for himself or on behalf of Gov. Pat Quinn too, Rita said. And the issue needs to be resolved soon with an impending Friday, May 31 deadline to send the bill to Quinn.

Jaffe's primary beef with the bill is that it calls for the Chicago casino to be regulated by a separate board appointed by the mayor, but Rita did not appear likely to budge on that issue.

Rita said it seems like the gaming board wants to have "total control of a Chicago casino...even what kind of coffee shop should be on the footprint, whether it's a Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts."

Jaffe, a former legislator in Springfield, has been at odds with the bill's drafters all spring, most recently after the Senate passed its version earlier this month. That bill would bring a casino to Chicago and casinos to the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville.

The legislation also would outfit racetracks, and potentially Chicago's two airports, with slot machines. Rita said the bill's framework would not change, but he is still negotiating how much of the revenue the state would take and how many slots would be allowed at airports.

Rita said he has requested a meeting with the Illinois Gaming Board but hasn't gotten a response and said he has been working with Quinn's staff but not with Quinn directly.

Asked why Quinn - who since 2011 has vetoed two other versions of the bill - isn't involved, Rita answered, "I don't know. I can't answer that question."

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn vowed Tuesday to sign legislation expanding the state's health-care program for the poor and disabled after the state Senate voted to send him the prerequisite to implementing the federal Affordable Care Act in Illinois.

"I think this is incredibly important to providing health care for more than 340,000 residents across the state," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Despite GOP opposition and grumbling from some Democrats, the Senate voted 39-20 vote to the expansion, which is required to implement what commonly is known as Obamacare -- President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement -- in his home state.

"This bill will not only expand access to health care for the uninsured, it will also strengthen our efforts to transform Illinois' health care sector into a wellness system that focuses on the preventative services and provides better quality treatment when people do become sick," Quinn said in a prepared statement.

"This bill will improve the health of the people of Illinois and create thousands of good jobs in the health care field," he said.

Republicans complained about the expansion's $3 billion to $6 billion pricetag, while black and Latino lawmakers used the vote to vent at the governor and his Human Services secretary, Julie Hamos, whom minority senators have targeted in a likely confirmation battle.

State Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), the lone Democratic "no" vote Tuesday despite being a co-sponsor of Steans' legislation, said the measure doesn't adequately help the state's "vulnerable people" by restoring big cuts Quinn and Hamos presided over last year to Illinois' Medicaid program.

"This bill just doesn't go far enough," said Trotter, who is an Obama supporter but ran against him for Congress in an unsuccessful 2000 bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). "There's no reason why we have to do this today ... [when we] have to fix some of those things we unknowingly broke last year when we basically had an attack on the profoundly disabled and the sickest of the sick."

GOP critics said the expansion, which would provide care to an estimated 342,000 presently uninsured Illinoisans who don't have children, is something the cash-strapped state cannot afford, especially since the 67-percent temporary income tax hike Democrats passed is due to expire in 2015.

"What do you say you don't do this and give the people back the week's pay you took from them?" state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said, referring to the tax hike that Democrats muscled through in 2011.

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House Tuesday sent Gov. Pat Quinn a measure to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in the face of complaints that doing so is no more dangerous than eating or smoking.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John D'Amico (D-Chicago), passed the House along a 69-48 vote after passing the Senate last week by four votes. The bill now moves to Quinn's desk.

"What we're trying to do is just go back to basics," D'Amico told his colleagues. "When you took Drivers Ed and I took Drivers Ed, they told us to keep our hands at 'ten-and-two' - not 'ten-and-one-on-the-phone.'"

Under the measure, Illinois drivers would still be able to use hands-free headsets and 'one-touch' dialing, where drivers need not push more than one button to dial or receive calls.

But at least one House member thought the restriction went too far, claiming drivers already commit acts every day just as dangerous as using cell phones behind the wheel.

Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) used the example of eating a Wendy's 'frosty' ice cream while driving.

"The thing with a frosty is, unlike a cone, you have to use two hands," Franks said. "You have to move your hands to bring the ice cream to your mouth. So, at no time was I using two hands while driving.

"My point is the things that I was doing were probably more distracting than I would have been by being on my cell phone and speaking."

D'Amico countered, "That's irresponsible."

Franks admitted, "You're right, and I understood that. But that happens every day."

The House approved a similar measure in March by a 64-46 vote, but it had to approve the measure again after the Senate changed the bill to lessen the punishment for a first offense.

Under the revised legislation, first-time offenders would face a $75 fine and not be charged with a moving violation, which could raise auto-insurance premiums. But fines would grow to $100 for a second offense, $125 for a third, and $150 after four or more offenses.

The bill's backers have included Verizon, the Illinois Trucking Association, the Secretary of State's office and the AAA Chicago Motor Club. The Illinois Licensed Beverage Association opposes the bill.

Quinn's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but later said Quinn will "review the bill once it reaches his desk." The bill will become effective Jan. 1, 2014 if Quinn signs it into law.

Meet the new UNO board members

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Facing the suspension of its state grant in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times "Watchdogs" investigation, the politically influential United Neighborhood Organization announced new board members for UNO and its charter-school network Tuesday.

In a news conference at the UNO Soccer Academy Elementary Charter School, Martin Cabrera Jr., the founder and CEO of a Chicago investment bank, was presented as the new UNO board chairman. Cabrera is very familiar with the Hispanic community group--his firm, Cabrera Capital Markets LLC, did business with it as an underwriter for UNO's $37.5 million bond deal in 2011.

Juan Rangel, UNO's chief executive for 17 years, was a member of both the UNO and UNO Charter School Network boards, but Rangel said Tuesday he's stepping down from those positions. Still, Rangel has Cabrera's support to remain as the group's CEO, a post that has paid him $250,000 a year.

The only holdover from the old boards is Richard Rodriguez, the former Chicago Transit Authority president.

These are all the new board members of UNO:

• Cabrera
• Joseph de Lopez, former Winnetka police superintendent and vice president of Vorhees Associates
• Freddy Santiago, pastor of Iglesia Rebano Church
• Peter Skerry, professor of political science at Boston College and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
• Rodolfo Benitez, UNO parent
• Mariana Chavez, UNO parent

These are all the board members of the UNO Charter School Network:

• Vincent Allocco, president and executive director of El Valor
• Rev. Chris Devron, president of Christ the King School
• Rodriguez, who now is vice president and business development director of Lend Lease
• Dr. Gilbert Munoz, medical director of the Chicago Fire pro soccer team
• Silverio Nodal, UNO parent
• Jenni Jimenez, UNO parent

SPRINGFIELD-Senate Democrats Tuesday blocked legislation backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan to permit Illinois gun owners to carry their weapons in public areas and gut local gun laws, opting instead for a stricter measure favored by gun-control advocates.

The votes by the Senate Executive Committee further muddied the prospects of the House and Senate agreeing on a single plan to meet a court-imposed June 9th deadline to pass concealed-carry legislation and end Illinois' last-in-the-nation status barring gun owners from carrying their weapons with them.

Opposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker's concealed-carry bill that would undo more than 100 communities' gun-control laws died in the Senate committee on a 6-8 vote.

An alternative carried by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) that would spare those local gun ordinances advanced on a 10-4 vote, with one member voting present.

"I think we're close. I think we're very close," Raoul said. "But I think there are some things that are very important not to yield on."

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) urged passage of Raoul's legislation, saying a solution on the concealed-carry stalemate would take place if gun-rights advocates would simply back off their demands for a uniform, statewide set of gun laws.

"If we get over this super preemption that wipes out all these ordinances, we have a concealed-carry bill," Cullerton said.

But state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) countered that establishing uniformity is important to spare gun owners with concealed-carry permits from becoming unwitting lawbreakers if they unknowingly venture into towns with laws restricting the type of guns and ammunition allowed.

"We just felt there's too much ordinances out there that the law-abiding citizen won't know from one town to the other," said Phelps, who joined state Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) in presenting the Madigan-backed House bill to the Senate committee.

The votes represented a response to a December ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which in December tossed out Illinois' prohibition on concealed carry and ordered Quinn and lawmakers to come up with a law allowing it by June 9.

The Madigan-backed legislation would have imposed a uniform standard across the state that would permit gun owners to obtain five-year, concealed-carry permits for $150 after undergoing training and background checks.

The same legislation also would have set out nearly two dozen locations where concealed weapons would be banned, including in public trains and buses, parks, the Cook County Forest Preserves, government buildings, schools, museums, libraries and public gatherings like city street fairs or the Taste of Chicago.

The measure would have invalidated local governments' gun-control laws, such as Chicago and Cook County's ban on assault weapons.

Republicans on the Senate committee voted for the Madigan version but balked at Raoul's plan.

"I really do believe uniformity is a good thing to have," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).

"It's irrefutable evidence where we have the strongest gun laws, we have the most violence. I don't know how any proponent of local control can argue against that overwhelming fact," she continued. "It says to me our approach isn't right."

While Raoul's legislation is now positioned for a full Senate vote, a Cullerton spokeswoman said there were no plans to call it Tuesday to give both sides of the gun issue more time to try finding middle ground on a concealed-carry bill.

After Tuesday's votes, Quinn weighed in for Raoul's legislation.

"Senator Kwame Raoul's legislation provides a reasonable framework that would protect critical gun safety ordinances across Illinois," the governor said in a prepared statement. "This bill would place reasonable limits and restrictions on guns in Illinois while protecting the important principle of home rule. We must ensure that Illinois municipalities can continue to take additional steps to ensure public safety for their residents."

ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_39026967.JPGState Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), pictured here on the House floor earlier this month, told the Sun-Times Monday he will back a gay-marriage bill pending in the House. Ford was one of 12 undecided House Black Caucus votes revealed last week in a Sun-Times survey. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)


SPRINGFIELD-State Rep. La Shawn Ford has joined the four other House Black Caucus members who publicly support same-sex marriage legislation, with the measure's fate uncertain as a Friday deadline looms.

"I got tons of calls in support, and the constant lobbying and support for the measure from those that believe this is a right they deserve is what really pushed it over the top," Ford (D-Chicago) told the Sun-Times on Monday.

"I just think that all the credit goes to the community that lobbied hard for the measure. It's a page out of the civil rights movement to show that when you work hard and come together, things change.

"And how do you vote against something where so many people have worked so hard to fight for?"

Ford had previously told the Sun-Times he was undecided but was leaning toward voting for the legislation, which could make Illinois the 13th state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry.

A Sun-Times survey last week identified four Black Caucus members who opposed the idea and 12 who remained undecided, with five of those leaning toward a 'yes' vote.

The 20 black House Democrats have become a pivotal swing-vote group largely because hundreds of influential black leaders and ministers have been barraging them with letters and phone calls on both sides of the issue.

Ford said the bill's protections for churches against lawsuits were one reason for his support and said it's the prerogative of ministers to wrestle with any moral objections they may have.

"If they think they need to save the souls of people that are looking to get married, then that's their job," he said. "That's their mission."

SPRINGFIELD-The Democratic-led Illinois House Monday turned back GOP opposition and approved an expansion of the state's Medicaid program in order to implement President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, Obamacare, in his home state.

The plan passed 63-55 and now moves to the Illinois Senate, which has until this Friday's scheduled legislative adjournment to sign off on the package and get it to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor expressed support for the legislation, urging Senate passage and saying it would "improve the health of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people across Illinois and create thousands of good jobs in the health care field."

Under the plan, Senate Bill 26, 342,000 currently uninsured Illinoisans without children would be eligible for the first time to participate in Medicaid, the state's health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

"This is a watershed moment for Democrats, a watershed moment for people who have been waiting for health care their entire life," said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor.

The federal government would fully reimburse the state for its costs for the first three years then cover 90 percent of costs in subsequent years, Feigenholtz said.

The expansion would provide coverage to individuals making 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- or $14,856 annually. A family of four with household income of $30,656 annually could participate.

Debate lasted more than two hours on the legislation to implement Obamacare, with Republicans predicting it would wind up bankrupting the state. The GOP critics argued the cost of covering newly eligible Illinoisans would total $573 million, with the state eventually owing another $2.3 billion to cover others who are unaware of their eligibility and who are not fully reimbursed by federal dollars.

"I think it's very irrational, if not totally irresponsible, to go down a path to increase insurance...when we can't pay for it. This state is under water, and it's going to take a long time before the salvage operation to pull us [up] is complete," said Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon). "To put more people into the system with the promise we can pay is simply not true."

Monday's roll call included seven Democratic "no" votes. They included Reps. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora) Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines), Natalie Manley (D-Joliet), Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach), Katherine Cloonen (D-Kankakee) and Sue Scherer (D-Decatur).

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), who voted for the plan, said it would result in a financial windfall for Illinois because of an influx of $5.7 billion in federally-reimbursed Medicaid expenditures in Illinois, including for 48,000 veterans who would be newly covered under Monday's expansion.

"The real point of this bill isn't dollars and cents, although we make out like bandits if we pass Senate Bill 26," Currie said. "The real point of Senate Bill 26 is to make for healthier Illinoisans."

CONCEALED_CARRY_39303579.JPGState Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), pictured here earlier this month, pushed a bill through the House Monday to provide protections for consumers who purchase an ill or diseased pet. The legislation passed the Senate Tuesday and now awaits action by Gov. Pat Quinn. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois Senate Tuesday approved a plan to give pet-owners more protections when they purchase diseased dogs or cats from pet stores, with opponents having dubbed the idea no more than a "warm, fuzzy bill."

Known in Springfield as the "puppy lemon law," the proposal passed the Senate by a 44-13 roll call, with one member voting present. The House voted Monday by a 67-49 margin to pass the plan, which now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who supports the idea.

"What we're trying to do is promote some good consumer practices within the pet shop industry," said Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), the bill's chief House sponsor.

"I think what we've found is that we can ensure that outbreaks in diseases among dogs - and to a large degree cats - is what we need to be concerned about when we're dealing with consumer transactions at a pet store," Zalewski argued. "So that's the pressing policy need."

The measure's backers include the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the Puppy Mill Project and Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, but several kennel clubs across the state oppose the idea.

Under the plan - which would not apply to breeders or shelters - consumers who purchase an ill or diseased cat or dog from a pet store would have three options: get a new pet, get a full refund or have the store pay for veterinarian treatment.

A licensed veterinarian would have to deem the pet unfit for purchase within 21 days of the sale date, and only pets with certain conditions, not including hereditary or congenital diseases, would qualify. Zalewski said 17 other states have similar laws.

"Pet stores have come forth and said that this is actually a good best-practices act, and we're certain that after this bill is enacted most of the pet store ownership is going to abide by the law and do what we're asking them to do in the bill," Zalewski said.

ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_39026971.JPGState Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), pictured here on the House floor earlier this month, sponsored legislation that passed the House Monday to lower the mandatory age when kids must begin school from seven to six years old. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House members voted Monday to lower the age at which children must begin attending school from seven to six years old over objections that parents should make the decision themselves.

House members debated the idea, sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), for more than 20 minutes and passed the measure by a 64-52 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate.

"This is a jobs bill," Ford argued. "It also provides opportunities for parents to go to work and have a learning environment for their children while they work."

Under the bill, children turning six years old on or before September 1 must attend the public school in their district if not already enrolled in a school beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.

Ford contended that the legislation wouldn't be a major change because current law requires children to begin school no later than age seven.

But at least one House member, who called the idea a "state-funded babysitting service," argued that parents should make the decision.

"Kids [need] some time with their parents to develop the basic social skills - the responsibility, the respect that aren't being taught in our schools," Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) said. "At this young age, that's when they need to be home with family, a tighter group of people, whether that's a babysitter or whatever. I just think that lowering it to seven goes in the opposite of that."

FINE-GLA-052316-1_39141689.JPGRep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview), pictured here in her office earlier this month, championed a bill to boost mandatory auto insurance coverage after her husband suffered a near-fatal accident. The bill passed the House Sunday and now moves to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. (Rob Hart/Sun-Times Media)

SPRINGFIELD-Some Illinois motorists could see their automobile insurance rates go up by about $75 annually if Gov. Pat Quinn signs legislation passed Sunday by the House to raise the minimum amount of automobile insurance coverage drivers must carry.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview), passed by a 70-41 margin and now awaits Quinn's approval.

"Again, this bill will save people that are injured in an accident of no fault of their own on many of the out-of-pocket costs that they would incur," said Fine, whose husband, Michael, lost an arm in 2010 when he collided with a truck while driving to work.

The driver carried the minimum amount of coverage required under Illinois law, an amount that came nowhere close to covering the roughly $500,000 in medical costs associated with her husband's injuries, Fine told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The $75 annual increase Fine estimated in increased premiums came from the American Insurance Association, which took no position on her legislation, and would apply only to those motorists carrying baseline liability policies, she said.

"The dollar figure that [insurance companies] gave me at the time was maybe $75 per year, but it depends on the insurance company," she said. "What the insurance companies did say is that this will help lower insurance costs for all policy holders as well."

CONCEALED_CARRY_39144911.JPGSenate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), pictured here earlier this month, took questions Friday from reporters after a concealed-carry plan backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) passed the House. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-After the Illinois House Friday overwhelmingly sent a concealed-carry bill to the Senate, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) vowed to do what he can to kill the legislation.

Cullerton, along with Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board Presdient Toni Preckwinkle, oppose the bill because it would 'preempt' local control, meaning local municipalities like Chicago would not be able to enact laws more restrictive than those in the bill. And local ordinances, like Chicago's assault weapons ban, would no longer exist.

Cullerton tried to move a bill (HB183), sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), last week, but it was never called for a vote because House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) lobbied against it. Madigan championed the bill (SB2193), sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, that passed the House Friday by an 85-30-1 vote.

The gun scenario puts the two top Democrats in Springfield at loggerheads to pass a federally mandated concealed-carry bill by the time the session ends on May 31. The two personalities are also competing to solve the nation's worst-funded pension system.

Madigan has passed a bill (SB1) projected to shave roughly $30 billion off of the state's nearly-$100 billion pension shortfall. But the proposal lacks union support. Cullerton's plan (SB2404), backed by unions, is estimated to chip away about $6 billion of the shortfall. And Cullerton contends it is much more constitutional than Madigan's idea because it would offer employees a choice between different benefit packages.

Cullerton said his pension bill, which passed the Senate with ten extra votes, has as many as 25 more votes than it needs to pass the House. But it's unclear whether Madigan will let it be called for a vote. Meanwhile, Madigan said he thinks his solution, which got just two more votes than it needed in the House, will pass the Senate. But Cullerton said it's still at least eight votes shy of passage.

The following is a transcript from Cullerton's interview with reporters in his office after Friday's concealed-carry vote in the House. Outside of guns and pensions, the Senate president commented on the possibility of a Chicago casino, the state budget and his daily relationship with Madigan.


"...So there's a consensus on - very close to a consensus on - what a concealed-carry law should be. And that's what our task should be this session, not to go out and do a wish list that the NRA - that has nothing to do with concealed carry that preempts home-rule."

Q: Are you going to call SB2193 for a vote?
A: "Well, I'm going to try to defeat the bill, and we're going to have a caucus on it on Monday."

Q: Madigan said he thought SB2193 would have overwhelming support in the Senate. Can you say where the vote might be?
A: "What would have overwhelming vote in his chamber would be the pension vote that we passed over there that is still in Rules Committee. I don't know what he bases that on. We have a different makeup here. We have a lot more Democrats than he has over there. We won a few more seats than he did. So, I don't know why he would predict that."

Q: But he also successfully lobbied against Sen. Raoul's bill last week...
A: "That's true, but now what we're saying, as it relates to concealed carry, we're accepting the Brandon Phelps version of concealed carry."

CONCEALED_CARRY_39324349.JPGHouse Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) argues concealed carry-gun legislation while on the House floor Friday. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House overwhelmingly voted Friday to lift the state's prohibition on allowing people to carry concealed weapons by passing legislation favored by House Speaker Michael Madigan and gun-rights advocates, but Gov. Pat Quinn and the top Senate Democrat vowed to kill it.

Friday's lopsided House vote did little to cut through the legislative haze of how -- or if -- the state intends to comply with a federal court order requiring an end within about two weeks to Illinois' last-in-the-nation prohibition against gun owners carrying their weapons in public places.

"This legislation is wrong for Illinois," Quinn said after Friday's House vote. "It was wrong [Thursday] in committee. It's wrong today. And it's wrong for the future of public safety in our state.

"I will not support this bill, and I will work with members of the Illinois Senate to stop it in its tracks," Quinn said.

The vote came after gun-rights advocates predicted their plan would lower crime rates despite warnings from critics in the legislative chamber that the bill is "dangerous."

"Concealed carry works. In every place it's been in this country, crime has gone down dramatically," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), the bill's chief House sponsor.

His measure -- backed by Madigan but opposed by the Southwest Side Democrat's daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan -- passed the House 85-30, with one membervoting present. The bill, which needed 71 votes to pass, now moves to the Senate.

Besides Cullerton and Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle lined up against the legislation, describing it as a dangerous overreach that would flood Illinois' streets with more guns and gut local gun-control laws.

Friday's roll call, which carried more than enough votes to override a Quinn veto, represents a response to a December ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. That federal appeals panel in Chicago tossed out Illinois' prohibition on concealed carry and ordered Quinn and lawmakers to come up with a law allowing it by June 9.

Phelps' legislation would impose a uniform standard across the state that would permit gun owners to obtain five-year, concealed-carry permits for $150 after undergoing training and background checks.

The legislation also sets out nearly two dozen locations where concealed weapons would be banned, including in public trains and buses, parks, the Cook County Forest Preserves, government buildings, schools, museums, libraries and public gatherings like city street fairs or the Taste of Chicago.

The measure would invalidate local governments' gun-control laws, such as Chicago and Cook County's ban on assault weapons.

"The 7th Circuit had a very specific directive," said Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), an opponent of Phelps' legislation. "That directive was to provide for concealed carry in the state of Illinois. We go so far beyond that in this bill by preemption and, in effect, repealing, invalidating, hundreds if not thousands of local laws and ordinances. I think we need to think long and hard before we do this."

Another "no" vote, Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), ridiculed the fact that the National Rifle Association wasn't publicly advocating for the legislation even though the bill gave the group much of what it wanted.

"The idea the NRA is 'neutral' on this is like saying that there's a fox 'neutral' on an appropriation to defund henhouse security," Mitchell said.

The roll call was driven by support from the powerful House speaker, who has been a long-time opponent to concealed-carry but said he switched sides in the debate because of the court edict and after watching the results of a series of House votes on the issue earlier this spring.

In mid-April, concealed-carry legislation drafted by gun-control advocates failed by drawing only 31 votes in the House. A day later, a bill written by gun-rights forces drew 64 votes, a total below the 71 votes it needed but still far more than its rival plan.

Madigan said the NRA-backed plan originally had 75 votes before he worked against it and peeled off 11 votes.

"Those vote counts are very telling," Madigan said in explaining his new posture on concealed-carry. "They tell the reason why I stand before you today, changing a position, which I've advocated for well over 20 years. But that's what happens in a democracy, where there's free and open debate and people are called upon to cast votes in legislative bodies.

"Over time," the speaker continued, "the people who sent them to legislative bodies change their thinking. And in a democracy, it's not only OK to do that, it's expected that there be changes in thinking by people and legislators consistent with how the people in the country feel."

After the vote, Madigan predicted the legislation would rack up a similar roll call if it gets called in the Senate before next Friday's scheduled legislative adjournment, a scenario Cullerton would not address after the House vote.

The Senate president said he intends to measure support for the bill within his 40-member caucus on Monday, but he made clear his intention to try burying the bill and offering up some form of legislative Plan B on guns.
"I'm going to try to defeat the bill, and we're going to have a caucus on it on Monday," he told reporters.

"Maybe we'll have a caucus and see there is no support, and we'll go ahead with an alternative. Once the members realize there's an alternative that's very similar, almost identical to the House alternative, maybe we can avoid this," he continued. "Maybe we can focus our attention on concealed carry, which is what the courts tasked us with doing, and then solve that part of the problem we have facing us."

While Emanuel's administration was silent on the legislation during a Thursday House committee hearing, the mayor's office later issued a statement expressing opposition to the bill.

Still, a dozen city Democrats voted in favor of Phelps' legislation Friday. They included Rep. Maria Antonia Berrios, Rep. Daniel Burke, Rep. John D'Amico, Rep. Monique Davis, Rep. Mary Flowers, Rep. La Shawn Ford, Rep. Frances Ann Hurley, Rep. Silvana Tabares and Rep. Andre Thapedi.

Suburban Democrats voting for the legislation included Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights), Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Elgin), Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City), Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Norridge), Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields), Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), Rep. Carol Sente (Vernon Hills) and Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside).

The full House Republican delegation supported the bill.

"We have the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and we in the state of Illinois have chosen to ignore that over many, many years. And I've said on this House floor before and I'll say it again: Why is it that we in the state of Illinois are the very last to do this?" said state Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), a long-time concealed-carry backer. "Do we think we're smarter? If we're so smart, why do we have a city that has the highest crime rate in the nation if this works so well by not having concealed carry?"

Madigan's daughter, the attorney general, still has not decided whether to appeal the federal appeals court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court but, like Cullerton, does not like the way Phelps' legislation is crafted. As with Emanuel, her office issued a statement against the bill but remained silent during Thursday's House hearing.

Both her office and the speaker confirmed Friday the two spoke about her position on the legislation.

"Throughout the session, our legislative team has expressed to legislators that the [attorney general] has policy concerns about the broad pre-emption of home-rule authority and the 'shall issue' approach," said Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Asked what how the speaker responded when the attorney general raised those concerns to him, Bauer said, "You'll have to ask the speaker himself about his response."

When asked that specific question, the speaker displayed a lawyer-like, poker face.

"Well, that was a family discussion," he said. "So, it's privileged."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged the new U.S. Attorney nominee today to help the City combat drugs, guns and gangs.

"I congratulate Zachary Fardon on his nomination by President Obama for U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois. I look forward to working with him on the important matters facing our city, including our ongoing efforts to reduce violence, combat gangs and gang crimes, and take illegal guns off of our streets," Emanuel said. "Zachary Fardon has had a distinguished career fighting for justice, and I am confident that as U.S. Attorney he can have a positive impact on the lives of Chicago and Illinois residents, and help us improve the safety of our communities."

SPRINGFIELD-In a bid to improve highway safety, the Illinois Senate Thursday voted to ban motorists from using hand-held cell phones while driving despite complaints it amounted to an unwarranted government intrusion.

The bill sponsored by Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) cleared the Senate by a 34-20 vote and would still permit the use of cell phone headsets and allow drivers to press their phones once either to start or end phone conversations. The plan moves to the House, which passed an earlier version.

"This bill is all about making the roads safer," Mulroe said.

During a floor debate that lasted for more than an hour, Mulroe cited statistics from Evanston, which has had a similar ban in place for several years and experienced a 17-percent drop in accidents since the prohibition was instituted.

Under Mulroe's legislation, those ticketed would face a $75 fine on the first offense, which would not be considered a moving violation capable of raising auto-insurance premiums. Fines would grow to as much as $150 after four or more offenses.

"I don't want you to end up under a semi truck with your head cut off or you crashing into a tree or oncoming traffic. If you need to make that phone call and it's so important to make that phone call at that moment, get somewhere safe to make it, then get back on the road," Mulroe told his Senate colleagues.

Republicans and a handful of Downstate and city Democrats lined up against the legislation, pointing out how the state isn't legislating against other distractions while driving like misbehaving children in the backseat, eating, applying makeup or even talking with a passenger.

"This is this is just one more step toward us losing essential freedoms in the interest of safety," said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) told Mulroe and some of his fellow Senate Democrats.

"I don't know frankly I'm any more distracted with the hands-free, with the phone to my ear, than I am when I have a person in the passenger seat, and I'm having a lively conversation about that 67-percent income-tax increase you passed," Murphy said.

Watch below as President Obama speaks on national security.

***Updated with women's event details***

The freshly-elected U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly will host Democratic heavyweights Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in the 2nd congressional district next week.

On May 30th, Kelly and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will tour two 2nd Congressional District businesses - Bimba Manufacturing in University Park and the Chicago Ford Assembly plant.

This is part of Hoyer's "Make it in America" initiative to increase domestic manufacturing and Kelly's hope to keep manufacturing jobs in the district.
Expect a 10 a.m. press event at Bimba next week.

Kelly is expected to co-host a women's event with Pelosi. Details to come.

Women Employed, Women's Business Development Center, Coalition of Labor Union Women, National Association of Women's Business Owners, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Jobs with Justice will host House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Schakowsky and Rep. Robin Kelly at a forum on creating opportunities for working women. Following a speaking program, the Congressional leaders will greet women in attendance.

WHO: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Robin Kelly

WHAT: Forum on creating opportunities for working women

WHEN: May 29th at 10:00 am

WHERE: Loyola University Chicago
Regents Hall
Lewis Towers, 16th Floor
111 East Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611

Barack Obama's senior prom photo surfaces

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When President Barack Obama starts his day, he must be prepared for any number of surprise developments that could break out around the world. One thing the president probably wasn't prepared for today was TIME Magazine publishing his 1979 senior prom photo.


Greg Orme, Kelli Allman, Barack Obama and Megan Hughes at Allman's parents' house in Honolulu.

Odds are the president isn't thinking about immigration reform, drone strikes or IRS scandals here. TIME also published a handwritten yearbook note in which he calls Kelli Allman "sweet and foxy," so be sure to read through.


SPRINGFIELD-A quickly drafted House concealed-carry measure backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan passed a preliminary panel Thursday but was deemed an "overreach" by Gov. Pat Quinn and the Senate's top Democrat, citing key ideological differences.

The bill's sponsor, longtime gun-rights advocate Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), defended his measure for more than an hour in front of the House Judiciary Committee who passed the measure along a 13-3 margin, setting it up for a full House vote expected as early as Friday.

The primary bone of contention for Quinn and many Chicago-area Democrats, the bill would not allow local municipalities to enact laws more restrictive than the provisions in Phelps' bill and would prohibit all current local ordinances, including Chicago's ban on assault weapons.

"We oppose this," Quinn spokesperson Brooke Anderson told the Sun-Times. "The legislation, as written, is a massive overreach that goes far beyond the concealed carry issue. The measure would repeal Chicago's assault weapons ban and put public safety at risk."

But Phelps fears allowing local municipalities to write their own laws would result in a kind of confusing 'patchwork' of rules.

"We just think it's making law-abiding gun owners criminals if you don't have one uniform law," Phelps told reporters. "That way everybody understands what to expect."

That part of the bill has long been a stringent requirement for any measure to get the backing of the National Rifle Association. However, the NRA did not testify at the committee hearing, a move many suspect to be orchestrated to gather support from trigger-wary Democrats in the Senate.

"I just think that this is the right thing to do," Phelps said. "You saw what happened today. The NRA is not going to support this bill. I mean, there's just no position."

But Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has come out against the Madigan-backed bill because of its lack of local-control measures, saying it was clearly drafted with the NRA in mind.

"Having this in here, which is clearly by design of the NRA, hardens the Senate president's personal position against the legislation," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

"We see that portion of the bill as an overreach. That portion aside, there are probably some areas the chambers could tweak and move forward," she said.

Phelon would not assess the legislation's chances of passing if it makes it over to the Senate. "I'll tell you it's a close vote," she said. Both Madigan (D-Chicago) and Phelps told the Sun-Times Wednesday they expect the bill to get the necessary 71 votes needed to pass the House.

The potential stalemate between the two chambers is troublesome because a federal court in December ordered the Legislature to pass a concealed-carry law by June 9 after the court struck down the state's last-in-the-nation prohibition against carrying guns in public.

"I hope the president really understands this bill and knows what would happen if we go off the cliff," Phelps said, referring to the June deadline. "No one does. There's too much uncertainty."

SPRINGFIELD-A new push to allow Illinois gun owners to carry their weapons in public surfaced Wednesday with backing from House Speaker Michael Madigan and prohibitions on allowing guns in a broad swath of areas in and around Chicago.

The legislation carried by Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), a gun-rights advocate, is scheduled to be heard in a House committee Thursday with Madigan predicting a floor vote Friday.

"My expectation is there'll be sufficient votes" to pass the legislation to the Senate, Madigan said, though he indicated there is no agreement with Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) to call it for a vote before the General Assembly's scheduled May 31 adjournment.

Both Madigan and Phelps said they don't expect the National Rifle Association to oppose the legislation. A spokesman for the NRA could not be reached Wednesday evening.

The amendment to Senate Bill 2193 would prohibit gun owners from carrying their weapons in 22 different areas, including public trains and buses, government buildings, a "public gathering" like Taste of Chicago, parks and forest preserves, libraries and schools.

"Wherever the city of Chicago requested prohibitive locations, they're in the bill," Madigan told reporters.

2013-05-22_11-23-05_238.jpgTara Stamps, 44, speaks at the Capitol to protestors calling for a moratorium on Chicago's school closings. Stamps teaches at Edward Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts on the near North Side and is a member of the Chicago Teachers Union. (Zach Buchheit/Sun-Times Media)

SPRINGFIELD-Activists protesting Chicago school closings swarmed the Capitol Wednesday in a rally that included sit-ins in front of the House chamber to demand a moratorium on the closings, hoping to save the 50 schools still set to get the axe before the Legislature adjourns at month's end.

The message to lawmakers shouted by the roughly 200 demonstrators under the Capitol rotunda was fairly simple: If you don't represent our interests, then you need to leave.

"What I'm saying right now is if you don't do what you need to do today, you will not have the opportunity to do it again," cried Tara Stamps, West Side resident and Chicago Teachers Union member. "There is no way my people will re-elect you to come back to Springfield to sell us out."

The groups at the rally - Action Now, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Grassroots Education Movement and CTU - are targeting two moratorium bills sitting in the Legislature.

One bill has passed committee and moved to the Senate floor, while the other has sat since February in the House Rules Committee, often called the place legislation goes to die until House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) releases it.

"We want Michael Madigan to call the bill. Period," said Rev. Krista Alston of Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church in Kenwood. "Because we feel that to try to hold it in committee is stalling, and while you're stalling our children are being harmed."

Efforts seemed to be focused on House legislation, which has 32 members' names tacked to it. Protestors conducted a sit-in at the entry to the House chamber, and eight of them were escorted away by police.

But Madigan doesn't support the measure in the House, where "there's not support for moving the bill," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

"I don't think [Madigan] thinks the state has a role in how school districts operate in that regard," Brown said.

The House plan would simply halt school closings before the end of the 2014-2015 school year, while the Senate bill would ban any school closings before June 30, 2014 and require the Chicago Board of Education to adopt a 10-year master plan by October 1, 2013.

ILLINOIS_BUDGET_SENATE_39168491.JPGSen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), pictured here last week, pushed legislation through the Senate Wednesday that would impose new sex-education requirements on school districts. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois would have a new statewide sex-education standard for sixth- through 12th-graders that would extend beyond abstinence-only teaching under legislation that passed the state Senate Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The measure that would require teaching about birth control cleared the Senate on a 37-21 roll call and was backed by groups like the ACLU of Illinois, AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

After the vote, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor supports the legislation.

Opposed by Republicans, the bill would encourage school systems to offer more than abstinence-only education by adopting "comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate" sex-education curricula with a specific focus on sexually-transmitted diseases, contraception and unintended pregnancies.

"Teen births represent 10 percent of our child births here in Illinois. We need to provide tools to our kids to make smarter choices than that," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Under her plan, school districts would retain the power to shape sex-education programs that adhere to their communities' standards, and parents could remove their children from the courses for any reason without penalty.

SPRINGFIELD-The maximum speed limit would jump to 70 mph on interstate highways in most of Illinois under a measure passed Wednesday by the General Assembly over concerns it would put more drivers at risk.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Smithton), passed the House by an 85-30 margin after passing the Senate last month. The bill now awaits the approval of Gov. Pat Quinn, who Costello said is against the idea.

"I believe it is a business-friendly bill," Costello said. "I believe this is safer legislation than the 65-mph speed limit that we currently have."

The legislation - which Costello said would bring Illinois up to par with 34 other states that have limits of at least 70 mph - would apply to interstate highways outside of urban districts.

It also allow for lower maximum speed limits in some counties - Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties.

Costello, a former police officer, cited studies saying people drive between 72 to 74 mph on average when the speed limit is 65 or 70 mph and that "the disparity in speeds is what many times causes those accidents."

But opponents, including some with commercial driver's licenses, lined up against the bill and noted its opposition from several state agencies including the Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois State Police and Illinois Insurance Association.

"You run the speed limit up to 70 with an 80,000-pound truck, guys are going to push it further," argued Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica), who said he drives a commercial truck during the summer and on weekends.

Opposition came from both sides of the aisle, with House Democratic leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) weighing in.

"I don't know if this is a business-friendly bill, but I know that it sure is not a people-friendly bill," Currie said. "All the studies show that when you increase road speeds you increase road crashes...You also kill a lot more people."

But Costello countered that vehicles doing 60 mph in a 70-mph speed zone have a "greater propensity for accidents than someone doing 80."

"Slower vehicles are more likely to cause accidents," he said.

SPRINGFIELD-Commonwealth Edison Wednesday became free to follow through with $70 million in new annual rate hikes for the modernization of its electricity grid when the General Assembly voted to reject Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of the effort.

By a 71-51 vote, with five voting present, the House followed the lead of the Senate, which on Tuesday also overrode Quinn's veto from earlier this month. With just enough votes to override a veto, the House's action made the bill law.

"Today's unfortunate vote forces electric utility rate-hikes on families and businesses all across Illinois," Quinn said in a prepared statement. "I am disappointed that the General Assembly did not protect consumers from overreaching by utility monopolies like ComEd and Ameren. This is bad for families, businesses and our economy."

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill's chief House sponsor, said the measure clears up language in the bill passed last year designed to allow the utility to update its system to help prevent and fix power outages.

"Instead of it taking 10 hours to find the location to fix, it could take an hour," Lang said. "It could take an hour and a half. It could take 20 minutes because the new technology would allow them to pinpoint [the problem] very quickly."

The utility's 'smart-grid' program became law in 2011 and included a $2.6 billion upgrade funded in part by a decade of annual rate hikes. The law passed by the General Assembly Wednesday was a utility-driven response to a series of Illinois Commerce Commission rulings against the utility's hikes.

The unfavorable ICC rulings forced ComEd to postpone installation of its new smart meters in Chicago and its suburbs until 2015, but the utility has said the new law will allow for installation later this year.

"All this bill does is reinvigorate our interest in having the Commerce Commission follow our law as we wrote it last year," Lang said.

It became clear in the debate that the House's action was also partly an assertion of its power in the wake of Quinn's veto, which Lang noted was executed "very emphatically."

"I have a different story to tell," Lang said. "The story is that the Commerce Commission does not make public policy in this state. The Illinois General Assembly makes policy in this state, and they ought to follow the policy that we set."

SK-JAN-020410-P1_36337225.JPGU.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), pictured in this 2010 file photo, denounced state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) for his "unjustified and completely" unacceptable linkage of Gov. Pat Quinn and Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos to Nazis. (Joe Shuman/For Sun-Times Media)

SPRINGFIELD-The fallout from state Sen. Donne Trotter's statements connecting Nazis with Gov. Pat Quinn and his Jewish cabinet secretary, Julie Hamos, deepened Wednesday with a denunciation of the South Side lawmaker from U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

"I am absolutely stunned and appalled by the recent statement by Illinois state Sen. Donne Trotter that likens Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services [Director] Julie Hamos to Nazis. That unjustified and completely unacceptable type of name-calling has absolutely no place in political debate or in civil discourse," Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said in a prepared statement.

"It's insulting not just to two individuals who are dedicated to serving our state, but to all those who fought and lost loved ones because of World War II and the Holocaust," she continued. "I urge the Illinois legislature to focus its efforts on expanding health care coverage to 340,000 Illinoisans by passing Medicaid expansion this month. That is the job at hand."

Trotter apologized Tuesday for remarks he made justifying a
letter he co-signed and sent to Quinn last week on behalf of the African-American and Latino Senate caucuses pressing the governor to replace Hamos as DHFS director.

"Hitler supported Goebbels too and his propaganda he was pushing forth during his crusade. So if this is the person, this is the face you want to represent your administration, then we need to get rid of both of them," Trotter told WUIS-FM, a public-radio station in Springfield.

Hamos is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and had three grandparents die during the Holocaust.

In backtracking Tuesday, Trotter said his Nazi comments were "inappropriate and wrong."

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_38954703.JPGState Senator Donne Trotter, pictured here earlier this month, apologized Tuesday for likening Gov. Pat Quinn and an appointed official to Nazi leaders. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-State Sen. Donne Trotter apologized Tuesday for insensitive remarks he made directed at a member of Gov. Pat Quinn's cabinet in a gaffe that a top Chicago Jewish group condemned as "Nazi-linked name-calling."

Trotter's comment came on the heels of a letter he co-signed sent to Gov. Pat Quinn last week on behalf of the African-American and Latino Senate caucuses pressing Quinn to replace Julie Hamos, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

"Hitler supported Goebbels too and his propaganda he was pushing forth during his crusade. So if this is the person, this is the face you want to represent your administration, then we need to get rid of both of them," Trotter told WUIS-FM, a public-radio station in Springfield.

Hamos lost three grandparents to the Holocaust and is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

"I apologize to Director Hamos. My comments were inappropriate and wrong," Trotter said in a prepared statement. "My focus will remain on the egregious disregard toward some of the most vulnerable people in our state: the mentally ill, the profoundly disabled, the sickest the old and young."

Trotter is one of Cullerton's assistant majority leaders and has been a state lawmaker for 25 years.

Quinn's office has said it still backs Hamos as director, but the group of state senators who signed the letter insist on her ousting, pointing to budget cuts for the poor, elderly and disabled.

The Chicago Jewish Federation on Tuesday condemned Trotter's remark.

"Rather than focus the budget discussion on how to make the difficult decisions confronting the Illinois Legislature, state Sen. Trotter instead resorted to distracting, divisive and inflammatory demagoguery," David Brown, Jewish Federation board chairman, said in a written statement.

"His analogy is profoundly insulting to the character of our state's chief executive and one of his top deputies. It also diminishes the reality of the Holocaust and so is shockingly disrespectful - indeed disparaging - of those who fought the actual Nazis and those who were their victims. The people of Illinois deserve much better from our elected officials."

Trotter's latest mishap is just one gaffe in a series of recent public relations blunders. Last December, police arrested him after he walked into O'Hare Airport with a .25-caliber Beretta and a loaded ammunition clip.

He "wasn't thinking," Trotter had said. He later pleaded guilty in April to misdemeanor reckless conduct and was sentenced to one year of court supervision.

Last December, Trotter was linked to indicted former Country Club Hills police chief Regina Evans, who was charged in a money laundering scheme involving $1.25 million in state grant funds. The Sun-Times reported Trotter had urged state authorities not to try recouping the money that had allegedly been misspent by Evans and her husband, Ronald Evans.

Trotter was a candidate for ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat at the time. He dropped out from that race less than a month later.

Trotter would not comment to the Sun-Times Tuesday, declining multiple requests for an interview from the Senate press box after the chamber had cleared the floor for adjournment.

Gov. Quinn's office clarifies casino remarks

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The Governor's office called today to clarify remarks Gov. Pat Quinn made to the Chicago Sun-Times in a Monday Editorial Board interview concerning a Chicago casino and whether the license can be revoked.

Quinn was asked about the level of oversight that there should be over a Chicago casino and specifically, whether a city casino should endure the same scrutiny as other casinos in the state. He was asked about some language that Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe said gives the city the upper hand when there's a conflict between the Chicago Casino Board appointed by the Mayor and the State Gaming Board.

Quinn: "There can't be ambiguity, the way I look at it. That's what we're telling our friends in the House right now. Ambiguity. Very bad."

Sun-Times: So you're saying that can't be the case?

Quinn: "The gaming board has to be the final judge. It has worked. And we already know, thanks to the Sun-Times that things didn't go so well when the city was running things. Hired Trucks. Silver Shovels and ..."

"It's just common sense that the city should not be a regulatory authority on its gambling. Especially since this would be the first municipally-owned casino in the country."

Quinn was then asked about the board's ability to yank the City's casino license.

Sun-Times: What about the language that says the license can never be revoked from the City? That's unlike other casinos in the state.

Quinn: The perpetuity thing? Yeah. Well, you want to make sure the gaming board has the authority to halt in its tracks if they find something seriously wrong, as they did by the way in Elgin ... The gaming board has to have that authority, that's more important than anything.

Sun-Times: So at bottom, do you think the gaming board should have the same authority over Chicago as every other casino in the state?

"Yes, understanding that Chicago is municipally-owned, I do think that the Gaming Board Authority must be supreme. The other casinos are privately owned, this is publicly-owned. But the gaming board has to be the umpire. The final judge. I think that's imperative."

Sun-Times: You think that's imperative, so will you not sign a bill that doesn't have that in there?

Quinn: "Well, we're negotiating the matter right now. The Senate bill needs improvement."

Sun-Times: But is that a must? Does that have to be in there?

Quinn: "It has been from day one."

Today, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson called to say the governor's office is actually "comfortable" with the language in the bill as to the City-owned casino's license being perpetual. Anderson said language in the bill allows the state board to remove the City's operator if there's an issue, which in essence would shut it down.

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois Senate Tuesday rejected Gov. Pat Quinn's veto earlier this month of legislation that would grant Commonwealth Edison roughly $70 million in new, annual rate hikes as part of a modernization of its electricity grid.

The override passed on a 44-11 Senate vote, with one member voting present. It needed 36 votes to undo Quinn's veto. Now, the legislation moves to the House for an override vote.

The utility made a hard pitch for Senate Bill 9 as a response to a series of adverse Illinois Commerce Commission rulings on a utility-driven "smart-grid" law that was enacted in 2011 and involved a $2.6 billion upgrade to its transmission network in exchange for a decade worth of annual rate hikes.

"The governor claims in his veto message that SB 9 is an 'unprecedented interference' in the ICC's ratemaking authority. That's simply not true," said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).

After the ICC decisions against it, ComEd postponed installation of new smart meters in Chicago and suburban homes and businesses until 2015, though the firm vowed to move up that installation to later this year if the legislation took effect.

ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_19324743.JPGRep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), pictured in this January 2011 file photo, confirmed Tuesday he is recusing himself from sponsorship of gambling-expansion legislation because of a "perceived conflict." ( AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-State Rep. Lou Lang cited a "perceived conflict of interest" Tuesday behind his abrupt and surprising decision to end his sponsorship and potential future involvement in gambling-expansion legislation.

The Skokie Democrat informed House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) of the decision on Monday, a move that could threaten any efforts to get Senate-passed gambling-expansion legislation out of the House this spring.

Lang's departure came as the Rockford Register Star reported in its Tuesday editions that the northern Illinois city, which the lawmaker specified in his legislation as a site for a new casino, last summer hired the law firm that employs Lang to handle workers compensation matters and to assist in flooding-related litigation against Rockford.

"It was recently brought to my attention that there may be a perceived conflict of interest between the law firm of which I am of counsel and my sponsorship of the gaming bill because a client of the firm has an interest that could be impacted by the passage of the proposed legislation," Lang wrote.

"To be clear, the law firm's work for the client has no relation whatsoever to any gaming legislation. Additionally, I do no legal work for this client, and I receive no compensation from their relationship with the firm," he said.

"My actions as an attorney and/or a member of the General Assembly have been, at every moment, completely appropriate and totally respectful of all applicable laws and ethical rules," he continued. "There have been no violations of any kind."

Earlier this month, the Senate passed gambling-expansion legislation that would authorize five new locations, including a site in Chicago, Rockford, the south suburbs, Lake County and downstate Danville.

Rockford Legal Director Patrick Hayes told the Rockford newspaper that there was not any linkage between its hiring of Evergreen Park-based Odelson and Sterk and the city's inclusion in the gambling bill Lang has twice passed through the House only to see Gov. Pat Quinn veto it.

Under Lang's sponsorship, the House passed a gambling expansion plan that named Rockford as a site for a new casino in May 2012. A similar measure, also sponsored by Lang, passed the House in May 2011.

Hayes indicated that Lang, who is of counsel to the law firm, did not personally handle any of Rockford's city worker's compensation work, leaving that to two other lawyers with the firm.

The newspaper reported that eight law firms had sought the city's legal work last year, but that Odelson and Sterk was not the lowest bidder. Hayes, in a later interview with the Sun-Times, said the firm was paid approximately $60,000 by the city last year.

Lang did not list the possible conflict involving his employer's work for Rockford on his newly filed statement of economic interest, an ethics disclosure form designed to outline public officials' financial holdings and potential conflicts.

"My economic interest statement asked what professional services I rendered, and I said 'practice of law.' That's all it has to say," Lang said when asked why he didn't disclose the Rockford connection on the form that he filed with Secretary of State Jesse White's office on April 11.

"Understand, a client of the firm and a client of mine aren't necessarily the same thing. I'm of counsel to a law firm," Lang said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Lang also defended the timing to withdraw as sponsor of the gambling bill, even though the connection Odelson and Sterk had with Rockford dated back to last summer.

"This is the time I felt was appropriate. I think you know that in all the legislation I've ever had in gaming going back 20 years, I've had Rockford in the bill. There's nothing new here," Lang said.

Lang didn't waver when pressed why he didn't object to the decision by the law firm that employs him to solicit business from a town covered by his gambling-expansion legislation.

"I have violated no ethical rules, and so I'll send you this piece of paper," he said, referring to the letter to Madigan, announcing his recusal from the legislation. "I don't want to discuss it further. That's my public comment."

Lang, who was working the gambling package aggressively as recently as a week ago, turned over sponsorship to state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island).

In brief comments to the Sun-Times Tuesday, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said Lang's departure would not impact the prospects for gambling legislation in the House.

"I think there's no change," Madigan said while walking from the House floor to his Statehouse office.

As the casino legislation moves its way through Springfield, a new chief sponsor was put on the bill for the Illinois House.

While Lou Lang (D-Ill) had been the point-person, that's changed with just 10 days left in the legislative session.

It's a major change in strategy, given Lang's lengthy history and his spot at the negotiating table.

It's now Robert Rita, a Blue Island Democrat.

Lang revealed on Tuesday he had a perceived conflict tied to one of his clients.

Rumors were already swirling that City Hall's fingerprints were on the move. Stay tuned.

Ken Griffin takes a swing at Rahm Emanuel

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Hedge-fund manager Ken Griffin took a swing at Mayor Emanuel Monday night during a speech at the Economic Club of Chicago, calling his record so far "lackluster."

Griffin, a billionaire and CEO of Citadel LLC, scolded Emanuel for the way he settled the Chicago teacher's strike and said the mayor should close even more schools than the 54 proposed, Crain's reports.

Griffin also criticized Gov. Pat Quinn for offering financial incentives for companies to stay in Illinois. Griffin is on the exploratory committee of wealthy Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner as he considers a run for governor.

168231767_38966577.JPGFormer U.S. President Bill Clinton, pictured here during a May 7 speech in Washington, D.C., urged the Illinois House Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

SPRINGFIELD-Former President Bill Clinton Tuesday joined Illinois' push to legalize gay marriage, becoming the most influential voice to date to urge the Illinois House to pass stalled legislation.

"Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, Illinois has stood for the proposition that all citizens should be treated equally under the law," President Clinton said in a prepared statement.

"Lincoln himself came to Springfield in search of opportunity, and he dedicated his life to securing equal opportunity for all citizens. I believe that for Illinois and for our nation as a whole, in the 21st century that must include marriage equality," the 42nd president said.

The live stream for President Barack Obama's Oklahoma tornado press conference can be viewed on the click-through.

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois high-school athletes injured playing sports could soon get help from their schools to cover medical bills if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a bill sent to his desk Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), passed the House Monday on a 71-39 vote, with one voting present, and would require the state's public and private high schools to carry insurance for their athletes with money funded by the schools.

"What we do here in this body is to try to put things in place to try to protect and to help our constituents whenever possible." Davis said. "And this bill is nothing more than trying to do that."

Under the measure, high schools would have to support policies that provide a minimum of $3 million in benefits or five years of coverage, whichever comes first, for catastrophic athletic injuries whose costs exceed $50,000. Davis estimated the plan would only cost school districts between $5-10 per student-athlete.

Still, opposition to the bill -mostly from Downstate Republicans - arose out of fear that many school districts wouldn't be able to shoulder the additional costs, which would be left to the district to decide how to fund.

"I'm telling you, our smaller school districts are going to do away with sports," Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) contested.

"Ladies and gentleman, you've heard many of us say before, our school districts are waving the white flag. No more unfunded mandates...where is it going to stop? We do not have the businesses and the EAV's and the tax base to continue to absorb these."

The bill, which handedly passed the Senate last month, materialized in response to a football injury that left Blue Island High School running back Rasul "Rocky" Clark paralyzed from the neck down in 2000.

Clark was covered by the school district's $5 million insurance policy, but he died soon after the money dried up in early 2012.

"Rocky Clark, before or after he was injured, you know, he didn't just go somewhere and shrivel up and wither away and nobody heard from him," Davis said after nearly half an hour of debate. "He continued to try to coach, not only football but also track. His mother continued to be active. So he was a very special young man.

"And while he's no longer on this earth to see this type of legislation at least get to this point, certainly we appreciate him looking down on us, encouraging us to support this piece of legislation."

Quinn, who attended Clark's funeral wake, has said he supports the legislation.

AMMUNITION_BAN_ILLINOIS_39240777.JPGNicole Hockley, a parent who lost her child, Dylan Hockley, 6, in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, testifies for legislation to ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines during a Senate Executive Committee hearing Monday in Springfield. Fellow Sandy Hook parent Mark Barden, whose son Daniel died in the school shooting, is in the background. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Three parents - Mark Barden, Nicole Hockley and Francine Wheeler - of children slain in the Sandy Hook massacre on December 14, 2012 testified Monday at the Capitol supporting legislation to ban the sale and purchase of large-capacity magazine clips holding more than 10 rounds. The measure passed the Senate Executive Committee by a 12-3 vote, with two Republicans supporting it.

The three parents are part of a group called Sandy Hook Promise, whose members pledge to honor the 26 students and educators who were shot down and support common-sense solutions to prevent violence. Invited to Springfield by Gov. Pat Quinn, the three parents from Newtown, Conn. met with 22 state senators and took questions from reporters Monday afternoon. The following is a transcript of the interview.

Hockley's opening remarks:

"Thank you for this opportunity to talk and just as way of introduction, we are here along with Sandy Hook Promise to discuss and support Senate Bill 1002. As part of Sandy Hook Promise, I think it's important that you know we're not just a gun-control group. We're not gun lobbyists. Sandy Hook Promise actually looks at holistic solutions and common-sense solutions for all the causes of gun-violence. So, we look very closely at school security and school safety, how we strengthen and build communities, support parenting - good parenting, and also mental health legislation.

"And in fact, one of the other parents and members of Sandy Hook Promise was in Hartford today proposing a new mental health bill for Connecticut that she helped co-author. So I just - I kind of want to position that we are not a gun-control group. We are a common-sense solutions group. But here today, in Illinois, the topic of the day and the topic that we're discussing is Senate Bill 1002 to limit the purchase and sale of high-capacity magazines that have more than 10 bullets.

"It's something that's near and dear to our hearts because in Newtown the shooter that killed our children used 30-round high-capacity magazine clips. And in one of the opportunities where he had to reload, 11 children were able to escape from a classroom. And we're left asking ourselves if he had had to reload more times, would more children have been able to escape or would one of the adults have been able to disarm him. It's a measure that will absolutely save lives.

"And Newtown is an incredibly beautiful, idyllic little place. And if this sort of tragedy can happen there, it can happen anywhere. And we don't want it to happen in Illinois to force you to take action. So that's why we support this bill, in the hopes that we can prevent any of you that have children or loved ones from feeling the same pain that we do every day."

With Chicago's Penny Pritzker set to undergo confirmation hearings this week in Washington, the workers from the hotel chain that brought her fortune came out in force to protest.

Hyatt Hotels workers protested outside of Hyatt McCormick Place, 2233 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. in Chicago today. It's just the latest battle in an ongoing feud between the hotel empire and workers who say they've been stuck in a four-year wage freeze.

Carly Karmel of UNITE HERE Local 1 told the Sun-Times about 400 people turned out for the protest today.

The protests come after President Obama nominated Pritzker, one of his top fund-raisers, to be the next U.S. Commerce Secretary.

From the Hyatt Hurts web site: "The Commerce Secretary's first concern should be to create good, family sustaining jobs for all Americans," says Cathy Youngblood, a Hyatt housekeeper who has led a national campaign to elect a hotel worker to Hyatt's Board of Directors. "Under Pritzker's direction, Hyatt has led the hotel industry in a race to the bottom by aggressively subcontracting out career hotel jobs to minimum wage temps. This is not the model that will lead our country to a bright economic future."

Gov. Pat Quinn said there's a sure way to get a same sex marriage bill to pass -- call it for a vote.

"You gotta have a vote," Quinn said in remarks before the Sun-Times Editorial Board. "They should go see the movie 'Lincoln' and watch a vote."

Quinn pointed to several states that have voted the same measure into law since the Illinois Senate passed the measure in February.

"There's only one way to do it and that's call the vote in the next 11 days," Quinn said.

Quinn said despite all the behind-the-scenes roll calls, he's confident the 60 needed votes are there some people just don't want to publicize it before hand.

"They don't want to do that but when the moment comes ... I'm very confident if we have that vote, we'll get 60 votes," Quinn. "It's a vote for history."

***updated with City Response***
Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday said if Chicago is to have its own casino, the Illinois Gaming Board must have "supreme" authority over it, rather than ceding power to the city.
Citing the Hired Truck scandal, Quinn said in a Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board interview that Chicago doesn't have the best track record: "things don't go so well when the city is running things."
Pending legislation in the Illinois House that would add five casinos in the state - including in Chicago -- contains language that would allow a mayoral-appointed board to trump authority of the state's gaming commission in some instances. The legislation would make Chicago the first City to own its own casino. Quinn reiterated what his office told the Sun-Times last week -- that there would be no casino deal if he isn't first sent a bill with comprehensive pension reform.
In remarks to the board, Quinn said negotiations are ongoing on the bill's language but he would insist that the gaming board has the final word. That includes clarifying language that would allow the gaming board to revoke the City's casino license if necessary.
"Understanding the city's casino would be municipally-owned, I do believe that the gaming board authority must be supreme," Quinn said. "The gaming board has to be the umpire. The final judge. I think that's imperative."
Asked if it were a must for his signature on legislation pending in the Illinois House, Quinn responded: "It has been from day one."
"The gaming board has to be the final junction. That pattern has worked well. We already know ... that things don't go so well when the city is running things. Hired Trucks and Silver Shovels ... It's just common sense that the City should not be a regulatory authority on its gambling especially because this is the first municipally-owned casino in the country."
The Sun-Times last week highlighted potential red flags raised by opponents, including from Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe who said the bill gave the mayoral-appointed Chicago Casino Authority final say in some areas of conflict and that it gave the City considerable power in the construction phase of the city-based casino.
"The bill says the Illinois Gaming Board shall control the gambling, OK. However, the Chicago Casino Authority would control the building of the casino," Jaffe said. "In Illinois, when you get into building and construction and stuff like that, you have to be very leery about what's going where. The largest fine ever imposed by the Illinois Gaming has to do with a type of building contract."
A statement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's spokeswoman responded:
"As Governor Quinn knows very well, there is the potential for corruption at all levels of Government which is why we agree that the Gaming Board should have maximum oversight over all gaming in Illinois. However, there is also a not so proud history in Illinois where Governors have attempted to manipulate and influence the gaming board for corrupt purposes. We cannot expose the taxpayers of Chicago to such risk. That is why the appropriate remedy is to grant the gaming board the authority to revoke the license of an operator of a Chicago casino which would effectively shut down its operations. Furthermore, the gaming board also has the ability to remove the Chicago Casino Authority's Board as well as its Executive Director, all appropriate powers for a state regulator."

At a City Club of Chicago address this morning, Gov. Pat Quinn said lawmakers shouldn't let the razzle-dazzle of slot machines distract them from their true mission of overhauling pensions.

"For those legislators who are enamored with the shiny object (of) expanding gaming in illinois, that has to wait until we get the important priority of pension reform done," Quinn warned.
"If we don't buckle down and focus on pension reform we will truly regret it," Quinn said. "We really need to keep everybody's attention on public pension reform in these next 11 days. There can be no real advance on gaming and all that, unless we do pension reform."

Included in his remarks, Quinn again pushed for a Senate bill in committee today that would limit the size of high capacity magazine clips to no more than 10 rounds. Quinn referenced his meeting with parents who lost children in the Newtown school massacre. They stayed at the governor's mansion last night and are to appear in Springfield today.

Quinn said the shooter in that tragedy walked into Sandy Hook Elementary with 30 rounds per magazine and got off 154 shots in about four minutes. Some children were salvaged only because he had to stop and reload.

"Because of that 11 children in Newtown were able to escape the rampage," Quinn said. Quinn asked how many more children would have survived if the high-capacity magazines weren't available to him.

Quinn also said he would keep an open mind on a medical marijuana bill that's on his desk.

Quinn has made similar threats concerning casinos in the past, in reference to a casino expansion bill that would add five casinos in Illinois, slot machines in airports as well as in racetracks. A key part of the gaming expansion bill is a casino in Chicago, which would grant the city enormous, unprecedented power. Critics have said the language in the bill still doesn't grant proper authority to the Illinois Gaming Board, instead granting it to a Chicago board whose members would be appointed by Rahm Emanuel.

The governor's office, however, has previously vowed to clarify any language to give the gaming board the upper hand.

"We cannot allow in any way if there is a casino in Chicago, that to take place without watchdogs that protect the public interest," Quinn said. "There can be no loopholes for mobsters."

Quinn pointed out that he's already vetoed two bills.
Again on pensions, Quinn said: "We'll be working that issue this week and every day until we get it done," Quinn said.
"I'm optimistic that we will do what we have to do to get this done by the end of the month because this is the most important thing, pension reform, for our economy in Illinois," Quinn said. "There's nothing more the government can do to help jobs and economy and growth than for the legislature to put a comprehensive pension reform bill on my desk at the end of this month."

CONCEALED_CARRY_39167665.JPGState Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), pictured here taking questions from reporters Friday at the Capitol, was unable to strike an agreement on his concealed-carry bill to move it through the Illinois Senate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-A Senate effort to impose restrictive concealed-carry limits on Illinois gun owners failed to surface for a vote Friday as expected even after the legislation was changed to ease opposition from the National Rifle Association.

"One of the realities that I was keenly aware of when I entered this effort was that there are some extremists," said Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), sponsor of the gun-control measure. "There are some extremists with some very loyal followings, and they use intimidation as part of their advocacy efforts. And sometimes that intimidation is quite effective."

Both Raoul and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) had hinted at a full floor vote after the bill cleared a Senate panel on a 10-4 vote Thursday, but it became clear a consensus had not been reached by Friday.

The bill was at least partly short of votes due to NRA resistance over the legislation requiring Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy to vet all permit-seekers in Chicago and allowing local sheriffs to object to any permit application.

Raoul partly gave in to the NRA Friday by removing a part of his bill that would have required applicants to demonstrate "good moral character," a measure criticized for being too vague. But it wasn't enough to get the required 30 votes for passage, and Raoul didn't express a desire to concede much more.

"These are people who, you know, use aggressive advocacy efforts - legal advocacy efforts but aggressive advocacy efforts," Raoul said, alluding to the NRA. "People who rate you by grades as if you were in school."

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_38846301.JPGSen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), pictured in this April file photo, said he didn't "feel strongly" about casting one of three Republican votes for medicinal marijuana legislation Friday but said he might support broader legalization of the drug. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-State Sen. James Oberweis was one of three Senate Republicans who voted Friday to legalize the use of marijuana by severely ill Illinoisans.

But the Sugar Grove Republican and self-described "semi-Libertarian" isn't sure he'd stop with just that.

"I'm inclined, wherever possible, to let people make decisions on their own," Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I might even support legalization of marijuana, period, and tax the heck out of it.

"To me, " he continued, "there's not a great deal of difference between marijuana and alcohol."

In boldly opening the door to the broad legalization of pot in Illinois, the former candidate for U.S. Senate, Congress and governor said he had never tried pot or any other illegal narcotic nor does he have any sick family member who would benefit from marijuana.

During floor debate and even after casting a vote in support of the legislation, Oberweis said he was undecided about the bill or its potential impact but added support for the bill by his daughter and her husband, both Southern Illinois University Edwardsville criminal justice professors, had "a little impact on me."

Oberweis also insisted he was not fearful of any political backlash from conservatives for his vote.

"Look, if people are going to be mad at me for a vote on that bill, so be it. I didn't feel strongly," he said. "I don't think there's a significant amount of harm that will come to the state because of it. I'm not sure there's all that much good will result either. It was difficult decision to make. But I made the best decision I could."

MEDICAL_MARIJUANA_LLINOIS_39164071.JPGSen. William Haine (D-Alton) argues Thursday for his legislation to legalize medical marijuana, which passed the Senate 35-21 and now moves to Gov. Pat Quinn. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-The idea of Illinoisans turning to pot to treat severe illnesses moved closer to reality Friday after the Illinois Senate approved the medicinal use of marijuana over GOP objections it would encourage more serious drug use.

The Senate's 35-21 vote, which followed an emotional debate that lasted more than 90 minutes, moves the legislation carried by state Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) to Gov. Pat Quinn.

"We are confident a strict, controlled implementation of this for those who suffer pain with the diseases and conditions listed in the act can be well served," Haine said. "Many of us have anecdotal evidence of the value of this. Doctors' groups have endorsed this, nurses.

"It is a substance, which is much more benign than, for example, powerful prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and the rest. The scourge of these drugs is well known. This is not true of the medical use of marijuana," said Haine, a former state's attorney from Downstate Madison County.

The governor has said he is "open-minded" toward the measure, which if enacted would make Illinois the 19th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Quinn's office offered no hint of its intentions with the legislation Friday, saying only that the governor intends to "review" the plan.

"The administration has been involved in this," Haine said. "He's not made a public commitment, but I hope when he sees this debate and he hears of the exchange in the House and Senate, his comfort level will be raised."

Friday's roll call came together on the strength of mostly Democratic votes, though three Republicans joined in supporting Haines' legislation, as well. They were Sens. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry), Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) and Dave Syverson (R-Rockford).

Senate Democrats who voted against the bill were Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), Gary Forby (D-Benton), Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor), Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) and Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).

"You all know full well the effects marijuana has on the body," said Hunter, a certified drug and alcohol counselor. "All they did was put 'medical' in front of marijuana. It's still a drug."

Under Haine's four-year pilot program, users would have to suffer from one of 42 named ailments or diseases, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and ALS, and have a doctor's prescription before they would be allowed to purchase and possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana during a 14-day period.

The plan would authorize 22 growers across Illinois and permit 60 dispensaries where users could purchase the plant.

Users, growers and sellers would have to undergo fingerprinting and criminal background checks. Employers and landlords could bar medicinal marijuana use in their workplaces and buildings. And, users would have to undergo field sobriety tests if police suspect they are driving under the influence of medical cannabis and could lose their driving privileges and privileges to use pot for their illnesses.

"This thing is filed with one check after the other on the possibility of abuse," Haine said. "It allows cultivation of this substance, which can relieve the terrible pains suffered by people. And they won't have to go to the dark side to get it. It'll be grown here in Illinois, not somewhere else."

During questioning by the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill) asked ex IRS chief Steve Miler about letters written to the IRS by various U.S. Senators -- including Dick Durbin. The letter asked about bringing further scrutiny to conservative groups.

Media coverage in 2010 indicates that Durbin had sent a letter asking about Karl Rove's Crossroads group and whether it was really a not for profit.

Click here to read:

"I think the letter speaks for itself," said Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill). "So the question is, did the Internal Revenue Service respond to that? Did they feel pressure from leading Democrats to do that? They were not forthcoming about that today."

Durbin's office, meanwhile, issued the following statement:

"Recent reports of IRS employees improperly targeting organizations based on their politics is inappropriate and those responsible must be held to account. The Citizen's United decision created a rush for organizations seeking tax exempt status because it allows groups to raise unlimited money while keeping their donors secret," Durbin spokesman Max Gleischman said. "To qualify for this special status, an organization's primary function cannot be campaigning. The IRS is right to determine the primary function of these groups, but that determination process must be applied rigorously to all applicants - not for some - and not be based on a group's political leanings."


U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) asked how Miller reached back to the House Ways & Means Committee after learning new information.
"We called to try to get on the calendar," Miller said.
"You called to try to get on a calendar?" Roskam asked, then paused, "Is that all you got?"

Roskam went on to deliver this, which won a bit of a groan: "I find it incredibly ironic, on the one hand you're saying, look the IRS is not corrupt. But the subtext of that is: 'we're just incompetent." I think it is a perilous pathway to go down," Roskam said. "There's sort of this notion that hasn't been satisfactorily answered and that is if the targeting, wasn't targeting ... if the targeting wasn't only based on philosophy then why did only conservatives get snagged?"

Only 70 of the 300 targeted were Tea Party, Miller said.
Roskam closed saying that was in contradiction to the Inspector General's testimony.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and Toronto mayor Rob Ford, right, at a September 2012 press conference announcing a sister cities agreement between the two cities. Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

So that thing we do where we say politicians who do crazy things must be smoking crack? (Thanks, Marion Barry.) Turns out that in Toronto, that may be taken a little too literally from now on. The Toronto Star, Canada's biggest newspaper, went all in with a report tonight that controversial conservative mayor Rob Ford - so controversial that Americans know who a Canadian mayor is - was allegedly caught on tape smoking crack. The Star report follows tonight's earlier report by Gawker of the same story. Both the Star and Gawker note that they were approached with offers to buy the video and that, when asked of proof, they were allowed to view it. The Star's reporters have shared their thoughts here.

Sayeth the Star!

The Star reporters (Donovan and Doolittle) were shown the video on the evening of Friday, May 3, in the back of a car parked in an apartment complex at Dixon Rd. near Kipling Ave. in the north end of Etobicoke. We were allowed to watch and listen to the video three times. After, both reporters separately made written notes of what they saw and heard. Both reporters, prior to watching the video, studied numerous city-hall-related videos of Ford and, to the best of the reporter's abilities, they separately concluded the man in the video was Ford.

From Gawker:

Here is what the video shows: Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, is the only person visible in the frame. Prior to the trip, I spent a lot of time looking at photographs of Rob Ford. The man in the video is Rob Ford. It is well-lit, clear. Ford is seated, in a room in a house. In one hand is a a clear, glass pipe. The kind with a big globe and two glass cylinders sticking out of it. In the other hand is a lighter. A slurred voice off-camera is ranting about Canadian politics in what sounds like an attempt to goad Ford. "Pierre Trudeau was a faggot!" is the one phrase the lodges in my mind. Ford, pipe in one hand and lighter in the other, is laughing, and mildly protesting at the sacrilege. He seems to keep trying to light the pipe, but keeps stopping to laugh. He is red-faced and sweaty, heaving with each breath. Finally, he finds his moment and lights up. He inhales.

According to the Star's report, other tipsters contacted them with information about Ford's alleged crack cocaine abuse. An attorney retained by Ford contacted Gawker and the Star, denying any wrongdoing on Ford's part and telling the Star, "How can you indicate what the person is actually doing or smoking?" No one - not The Star, Gawker, or anyone else who may have been contacted by the tipster - has shelled out the money to buy the video but both reporters outlets contend it's Rob Ford on the video.

Of course, the video is also being shopped around by a pair of Somali men who are "involved in the drug trade," according to the Star, so there's certainly reason for skepticism about the video. It's a big gamble by both Gakwer and The Star; if it turns out to be false, they'll both be subject to some mighty big lawsuits for defamation. Of course, if it pans out, then, well, that's one hell of a scandal in a big city.

Either way, tomorrow should be a fun day to follow Toronto on Twitter.

UPDATE: Michael Cooke, the editor in chief of The Star - and former top editor at the Sun-Times - tweeted out the front page:

UPDATE: Ford has denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, there are no less than three different Indiegogo campaigns (like Kickstarter) to buy the tape. Maybe Zach Braff can help them out a little.

UPDATE: And the Taiwan animation crew is on it.

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_39146089.JPGIllinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) Thursday chaired the second of a series of 'cost-shift' meetings, during which public higher-education institutions agreed to begin picking up the tab for their employees' pensions. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois' public colleges and universities will gradually begin picking up the costs of their employees' pensions starting next year under an agreed plan announced Thursday by House Speaker Michael Madigan and higher-education representatives.

"It's only the right thing to do," Madigan (D-Chicago) told reporters after the open meeting. "Whenever one person spends money and another person pays the bill it's a bad policy, especially for government."

Madigan's long-sought pension 'cost-shift' bargain - an idea not contained in either of the two major pension reform bills floating in the Legislature - comes in the second week of his formal discussions with higher education institutions.

Under the plan, the state's public universities and community colleges would pay an additional one-half percent of payroll costs into the pension system each year starting in fiscal year 2015 until the colleges cover all costs. Madigan indicated similar changes to elementary and secondary school districts were coming but did not discuss details.

Championed by Madigan, the cost-shift has been part of more sweeping past pension packages but has been perennially rejected by Republicans and suburban and Downstate Democrats, who fear school districts will have to lay off employees or raise property taxes to cover a heavier pension burden.

And while moving pension costs from the state to colleges and universities poses only a fraction of the larger cost-shift scheme, a consensus by higher-education institutions could gather support from traditional opponents who represent those colleges' districts.

Glenn Poshard, president of the Southern Illinois University system, called some of the measures "draconian," but he and University of Illinois President Robert Easter said they back the plan.

"We're willing to do whatever it takes because this issue is the single greatest issue threatening our people over the long haul," Poshard said. "We have to take the measures that we have to take. We can't avoid those responsibilities at this point in time."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday defended his decision to save $108.7 million-a-year by phasing out the city's 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care and forcing 30,000 retired city employees to make the switch to ObamaCare.

ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_39144801.JPGSen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) speaks to lawmakers during a Senate Executive Committee hearing on concealed-carry legislation Thursday. Under Raoul's bill, those wanting to carry a gun in Chicago would need permission from city police. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), left, looks on. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Favored by gun-control advocates, a push establishing tight limits on where Illinois gun owners could carry their weapons in public advanced in the state Senate Thursday over objections from the National Rifle Association.

The measure, which passed the Senate Executive Committee by a 10-4 vote, with one member voting present, surfaced less than a month before a June 9 deadline imposed by a federal appeals court for Illinois to end its last-in-the-nation prohibition on concealed-carry.

"I'm trying to do something to respond to the mandate of the court to promote and preserve public safety and to balance the rights of the law-abiding gun owners in the process," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor, told the panel.

Within Chicago, Raoul's legislation would require police Supt. Garry McCarthy to sign off on all concealed-carry applicants before they could get permits from the Illinois State Police, setting up what gun-rights advocates fear would be a choke-point that could keep city gun owners from getting licenses.

"I can see Garry McCarthy abusing the snot out of that," said National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde, who opposed the legislation.

Vandermyde insisted the bill wasn't crafted to meet the requirements of the December federal appeals court ruling that tossed Illinois' last-in-the-nation prohibition on concealed-carry but rather an effort to keep Illinois gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

"In our eyes, this is not a carry bill," Vandermyde told the committee. "This is a bill to discourage people and prevent people from carrying a firearm and exercising their constitutional, fundamental right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in public. We can put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig, and that's what this is."

Watch live video of President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan's press conference below.

Libyan military guards check one of the U.S. Consulate's burnt out buildings during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, not shown, to the U.S. Consulate to express sympathy for the death of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the deadly attack on the Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

While the White House deals with a pile of other issues right now - the IRS, the DOJ's obtaining AP phone records - the Obama Administration made a document dump last night in regards to Benghazi, releasing 99 pages of information on the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy there, which killed four including a U.S. ambassador. The dump is part of the White House's attempt to prove transparency and bring an end to a relentless string of attacks and accusations by the GOP of an alleged White House cover-up.

If you feel up to it, read through all 99 pages below.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I just finished speaking with Secretary Lew and senior officials at the Treasury Department to discuss the investigation into IRS personnel who improperly screened conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And I look forward to taking some questions at tomorrow's press conference, but today, I wanted to make sure to get out to all of you some information about what we're doing about this, and where we go from here.

I've reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog's report, and the misconduct that it uncovered is inexcusable. It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives. And as I said earlier, it should not matter what political stripe you're from -- the fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity. The government generally has to conduct itself in a way that is true to the public trust. That's especially true for the IRS.

So here's what we're going to do.

First, we're going to hold the responsible parties accountable. Yesterday, I directed Secretary Lew to follow up on the IG audit to see how this happened and who is responsible, and to make sure that we understand all the facts. Today, Secretary Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward.

Second, we're going to put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again. And I've directed Secretary Lew to ensure the IRS begins implementing the IG's recommendations right away.

Third, we will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role. And our administration has to make sure that we are working hand in hand with Congress to get this thing fixed. Congress, Democrats and Republicans, owe it to the American people to treat that authority with the responsibility it deserves and in a way that doesn't smack of politics or partisan agendas. Because I think one thing that you've seen is, across the board, everybody believes what happened in -- as reported in the IG report is an outrage. The good news is it's fixable, and it's in everyone's best interest to work together to fix it.

I'll do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again by holding the responsible parties accountable, by putting in place new checks and new safeguards, and going forward, by making sure that the law is applied as it should be -- in a fair and impartial way. And we're going to have to make sure that the laws are clear so that we can have confidence that they are enforced in a fair and impartial way, and that there's not too much ambiguity surrounding these laws.

So that's what I expect. That's what the American people deserve. And that's what we're going to do.

Thank you very much.

END 6:25 P.M. EDT

As the IRS scandal widens by the minute in Washington, add another issue arising from Illinois, where allegations are emerging that the IRS asked a pro-life group to sign documents vowing not to protest or picket Planned Parenthood as part of the IRS inquiry into its tax-exempt status.

Two groups: both pro-life organizations, one from Iowa and one from Texas, sought legal help from the Illinois-based Thomas More Society after they felt the tax agency was putting them through the wringer in order to get tax exempt status.

"They needed extra legal muscle to call the IRS to the carpet when they were asking well above and beyond" the normal standard of scrutiny,
Thomas Ciesielka, who heads communications for the Thomas More Society, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The firm handles legal matters for not for profits and represents a number of pro-life organizations. "The IRS office that's under scrutiny in Cinncinnati, Ohio - the woman who sent out these letters was the woman we were dealing with. The other one that came under additional scrutiny - was California."

Ciesielka said the Texas-based pro-life group was at one point asked to sign papers promising not to picket or protest Planned Parenthood. That exchange was not contained in one of the letters below but was referenced in a letter from a Thomas More attorney in correspondence to the IRS, according to documents provided to the Sun-Times.

In 2009 correspondence, Thomas More attorneys referenced a telephone conversation an IRS investigator had with the president of the Texas-based Coalition for Life, asking about her group's activities with regard to Planned Parenthood.

"Questions were raised about prayer activity, particularly outside of Planned Parenthood," the letter states. "You then asked ... to have all Coalition Board members sign a statement that the coalition will not 'picket' or 'protest' outside of Planned Parenthood or similar organizations and will not 'organize' others to do so," a More attorney wrote.

"The IRS' questions about prayer time, so-called "picketing" and use of signs is clearly improper, given the Coalition's legal right as a tax-exempt organization to engage in educational and charitable advocacy and its own plainly charitable, religious, and educational activities," wrote Sally Wagenmaker, of the Thomas More Society.

Read the IRS letters to Coalition for Life of Iowa and Christian Voices for Life

Exh. B-1 4.27.09 Coalition for Life of Iowa from IRS.pdf

Exh. A-1 2.28.11 Christian Voices for Life.pdf

Here is correspondence from the Thomas More Society on behalf of pro-life groups.

With his popularity slipping, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is getting some words of encouragement from a former rival on the eve of the two-year anniversary of his election as Chicago mayor.

Alderman Ed Burke. Sun-Times files

The City Council's most powerful aldermen on Wednesday defended Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to enlist Chicago firefighters in the effort to guarantee the safety of 30,000 students displaced by school closings.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, said he has long encouraged a "more mobile deployment" of the Chicago Fire Department's equipment and personnel.

"I don't see why they can't be out and be the further eyes and ears of the government," Burke said Wednesday. "I don't think anybody is suggesting they're gonna be armed and involved like police officers. Their role will be more expanding the city presence."

While it appeared he was building some support among party members, state Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) is pulling his name out of the running for the next Illinois GOP chairman.

Sandack held the lead in an unofficial poll posted on this blog. He is one of two Illinois House Republicans who has announced he would support a gay marriage bill when it is called for a vote.

"After much contemplation and discussion with several Republican activists, I am withdrawing my name from future consideration," Sandack said in a statement. I look forward to working hard with the new chairman and together focusing on rebuilding a Republican brand. As I have stated several times, we must be more inclusive to revive and revitalize our party."

So who does that leave in the running?

  • Jack Dorgan from the Northwest suburbs.
  • Angel Garcia from Cook County -- President of Chicago Young Republicans
  • Jim Nalepa
  • Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider
  • Mark Shaw Lake County lawyer active in politics up North.
  • Don Tracy brother-in-law to Jil Tracy, a state rep from Quincy.
  • Joe Walsh one-term suburban Tea Party Congressman
  • Lori Yokoyama - failed Cook County State's Attorney candidate.

Boehner: 'Who's going to jail' in IRS scandal?

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In a briefing today, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner made clear that Republicans want heads in the unfolding IRS scandal.

"My question isn't about who is going to resign," Boehner said. "My question is: who's going to jail over this scandal?"

Attorney General Eric Holder announced a criminal inquiry was underway, President Obama called an inspector general's report on the matter "reprehensible."

And there's more to come this week.

Appearing before the committee will be Steve Miller, acting IRS Commissioner and Jay Russell George, Inspector General for Tax Administration from the U.S. Treasury.

House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told the Sun-Times he has a number of questions for the two, including:

"Clarity who made the decision, how it was administered, what was the criterion, was there a political motivation behind it? What groups were contemplated," Roskam told the Sun-Times. "If this is going on, what else is going on? Who else is being targeted? Are there prominent political figures, or donors, or activists that are being targeted. It's incredibly unsettling."

SPRINGFIELD-Two House Republicans introduced legislation Tuesday to increase the penalty for hired drivers caught transporting passengers while drunk from a misdemeanor to a felony aggravated DUI.

The proposal, sponsored by House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) comes in response to limo driver Richard Madison taking 23 Oswego East High School students to their prom in Glen Ellyn last weekend while allegedly driving with a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit.

"A lot of people think the penalty for that type of behavior with the number of kids involved was significantly lower than it should be," said Cross, who represents the district where the incident occurred.

Partnering with DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin, Cross and Reboletti seek to increase the penalty for hired drivers under the influence to a Class 4 felony, which carries a one to three year prison sentence or up to two and a half years of probation.

"For-hire drivers assume the responsibility of each and every life in that vehicle," Reboletti, a former prosecutor, said. "If they want to abuse that responsibility then they are going to suffer the consequences with increased penalties."

(Above: U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam)

Two congressional Republicans from President Obama's home state on Tuesday predicted that a congressional hearing focusing on the IRS scandal later this week would be both "explosive" and "significant."

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) - who is also Chief Deputy Whip and U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) both called on wholesale change within the IRS.

Both sit on the powerful House Ways & Means Committee. On Friday, the panel will be taking the IRS to task because of an ever-growing scandal over recent admissions by the IRS that it targeted conservative groups for inquiry.

"It's an unsettling day," Roskam said as more details emerge about the IRS scandal.

Appearing before the committee will be Steve Miller, acting IRS Commissioner and
Jay Russell George, Inspector General for Tax Administration from the U.S. Treasury/

Roskam said he has a number of questions for the two, including:
"Clarity who made the decision, how it was administered, what was the criterion, was there a political motivation behind it? What groups were contemplated," Roskam told the Sun-Times. "If this is going on, what else is going on? Who else is being targeted? Are there prominent political figures, or donors, or activists that are being targeted. It's incredibly unsettling."

Schock is already calling for Miller's resignation, arguing he was either complicit in the behavior or ignorant to it.

"I think the president needs to remove these officials and put in place someone whose number one responsibility will be to clean up the mess," said Schock.

"The IRS is supposed to be completely non-partisan and ... whether you have a Democrat president or Republican president really should not matter when it comes to tax laws. So, to me, I would hope that the administration would join us on calling on the removing these officials," Schock said. "At the heart of this is not (just) the accountability of them but credibility to the taxpayers."

In the waning days of the legislative session, at least one Illinois House member is getting antsy over the lack of movement on gay marriage.

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chair Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) said he's been urging the bill's sponsor to call it for a vote.

"He needs to do something. The longer he waits, I believe, the less likely he'll be to get a simple majority in our chamber. I also think he will pick up a few votes once people listen to the debate ... This bill will be passed. There's only 20 of us out of 118. It's not a Black Caucus issue. The Black Caucus is not responsible for the bill not getting passed. This is Downstater's issue, this is a rural area issue, a suburban issue."

Dunkin said he's felt the pressure from those who oppose gay marriage including from robocalls and Sunday church speeches.

"I've been taking it across the chin the last three weeks. Robocalls, pastors at church (saying): 'The head of the Black Caucus, what the heavens are you doing, in Jesus' name!'"

"I think Jesus likes all of us," Dunkin continues. "Jesus hung out with the pros and the 'hos and the gays and the hypocrites."

DRIVERS_LICENSES_38132832.JPGSecretary of State Jesse White, pictured in this 2007 file photo, believes a federal recommendation Tuesday that Illinois and other states lower their drunk-driving standard from .08 blood-alcohol content to .05 blood-alcohol content warrants "further study." (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Secretary of State Jesse White believes the idea of reducing Illinois' drunk-driving threshold merits "further study," his office confirmed Tuesday after a federal agency recommended all states scrap their .08 DUI standards.

The National Transportation Safety Board urged all 50 states to lower their drunk-driving limits by nearly half from .08 blood-alcohol content to .05 blood-alcohol content.

"It's an issue that needs further study. We commend them for looking into this and the work they've done. But we feel at this point, it needs more study to go to .05," White spokesman Dave Druker told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Druker said White was not prepared to move any kind of legislative package in the dwindling days of the spring legislative session and that his senior staff would delve more deeply into the NTSB's findings.

A 180-pound man could drink no more than two 12-ounce servings of light beer in an hour to stay below a .05 blood-alcohol content, according to an online blood-alcohol calculator maintained by the University of Oklahoma.

Under the existing .08 law, that same person could drink four 12-ounce servings of light beer to remain below the drunk-driving limit, the university calculator showed.

When asked whether the secretary of state's office has a concern about how those tighter standards would could make it impossible for Illinoisans to drink alcohol at weddings, anniversaries or Super Bowl parties and still drive legally, Druker said, "It's an issue."

But Druker cautioned that White had not formulated a position on the NTSB recommendations.

"I don't think we've thought it through to that extent. We just heard about the report today," Druker said.

Illinois has had a .08 blood-alcohol standard since 1997, when then-Secretary of State George Ryan successfully pushed the change through the General Assembly. Previously, the state's drunk-driving limit stood at .10 blood-alcohol content.

Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

I have an old friend who refused to switch over to Gmail, Google's email service, several years ago when the company began rolling out beta accounts. The service's tagline about never having to delete an email thanks to its message threading and large amount of space available for each account, he said, made our messages prone to the government's Project Echelon. For years, I've dismissed his assumption as another conspiracy theory, a tinfoil hat approach to a new email service.

Thing is, after the last week the Obama Administration has had, his idea hardly seems silly anymore; in fact, it seems downright relevant.

Today, you've heard the national media play up a trio of controversies that are besieging the president and his administration: the Benghazi controversy, the IRS targeting of right-wing groups, and the Department of Justice's shady-as-hell collection of Associated Press phone records. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke today on the IRS investigation while White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was bombarded with questions over the AP story.

To limit the look at the fire the administration has come under to just these three stories, however, would be to ignore the greater context of the Obama presidency's now looming legacy of the dissolution of civil liberties which can include the administration's backing of the FBI's plan on Internet surveillance and the administration's reliance on drones. All told, it's been a bad week, yes, but when you add these last two topics to the pile, this administration's track record looks downright miserable.


State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) -- a possible Illinois Attorney General candidate -- accepted a $2,500 campaign contribution from a company that is at the center of the controversy over a state grant to UNO, a politically influential charter school operator.

After the Chicago Sun-Times asked questions about the donation, Raoul's committee said it would return the money.

"Out of an abundance of caution, especially as this investigation continues, we are returning the contribution," Hanah Jubeh, senior adviser of Raoul's campaign committee, said today.

The company, d'Escoto Inc., is a prolific campaign donor. However, Raoul accepted the $2,500 from d'Escoto Inc., just over two weeks ago -- long after the company had been put under the microscope, campaign records show. It was on the same day Gov. Quinn's administration cut off funding to the state's largest charter-school operator, United Neighborhood Organization, over insider deals involving d'Escoto that the state says violated terms of a $98 million state grant.

In an interview in April with the Sun-Times, Raoul said he didn't plan to focus on fund-raising until the session was over. Raoul has been tapped to head up concealed carry legislation in the Illinois Senate.
"I'm going to turn my attention to that as we conclude our legislative session. Fund-raising is the arduous but necessary task you have to tackle, when considering running for any office," Raoul said.

In February, Miguel d'Escoto, who was UNO's senior vice president of operations, resigned "by mutual agreement." Two of d'Escoto's brothers were hired as contractors on state-funded school construction projects in Chicago.

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity began investigating UNO in response to reports in the Sun-Times that revealed that d'Escoto Inc. and Reflection Window Co. have been paid a total of $8.5 million out of the state grant. D'Escoto Inc. is owned by Federico "Fred" d'Escoto. Reflection Window is owned by Rodrigo d'Escoto.

With reporting by Dan Mihalopoulos

The Illinois Rifle Association sent out another alert to its members today, urging them to call their representatives in Springfield urging for “shall issue” concealed carry legislation.

The Supreme Court has given the state until June 9th to come up with a constitutional concealed carry law. The state has asked for an extension.

From the Illinois Rifle Association warning:

“As June 9th grows nearer, a lot of attention will be focused on the General Assembly’s efforts to comply with the court order to enact concealed carry. As important as passing shall-issue concealed carry is, gun owners should not let the carry issue distract them from other efforts already underway to diminish their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Those of you who have been following the topic of gun control this year know that there are some key items on the gun-grabbers’ legislative wish list. Among the crown jewels are the ban and confiscation of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns; the ban and confiscation of standard capacity magazines; the registration of lawful gun owners; and the mandatory reporting of lost and stolen firearms. The gun controllers claim that these measures are necessary to protect public safety. Of course, firearm owners know that these measures are designed strictly for the purpose of punishing people who dare to own a gun.


Bill Daley -- the brother of Chicago's former longtime Mayor -- told the Chicago Sun-Times not to count him out on a run for Illinois governor.


Daley was trying to stamp out rumors that he was definitely out of the running for a March 2014 Democratic primary. When asked why he hadn't yet formed a campaign committee if he were serious, the former White House Chief of Staff and onetime U.S. Commerce Secretary said he didn't see money as an impediment to a run.

"That isn't a big deal in the scheme of things," Daley told the Sun-Times. "Look, I'm pretty confident that I can raise the money I need to raise."

The bigger question was regarding Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and whether she was truly intent on making a move for governor, he said.

Lisa Madigan already has more than $4.3 million in the bank.

Daley said he hasn't seen a clear signal that Madigan is in. "How definite she is in doing it? That's the main (question). But money sure isn't," Daley said.

Does that mean he's out if Lisa Madigan is in? "I'm not saying that - harder, obviously, very hard, to win a three-way race," he said.

Gov. Pat Quinn has said he intends to run for another term. Lisa Madigan made an overture toward the governor's mansion earlier this year but has remained silent on the issue since.

She hasn't been silent when it comes to fund-raising, however, and donors have said she's expressed her intent to run.

An announcement is not likely until after the legislative session concludes.

President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron are holding a joint press conference at the White House which you can watch below.


Likely seeing his political future linked to the state's pension debacle, Gov. Quinn is using lawmakers' keen interest in expanding gaming in Illinois as leverage to accomplish his top goal: pension reform.

Quinn's office is sending a clear signal that if lawmakers really want gambling expansion -- a bill that already sailed through the Illinois Senate that's filled with goodies for members statewide -- he had better find a pension reform bill on his desk.

(Read the Sun-Times analysis of an unprecedented City-owned casino here

"He's not going to approve a gaming expansion until lawmakers send him a comprehensive pension reform bill," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.

Quinn twice vetoed casino expansion legislation after saying it lacked oversight and needed ethical strengthening, including a ban on campaign contributions from those doing business with the casino.

The proposed bill would create the first City-owned casino in the country, placing it in Chicago. It would bring four other casinos to the state as well as slot machines in racetracks and in Chicago's two airports.

When Quinn vetoed a past Senate bill calling for gambling expansion he noted: "Illinois cannot gamble its way out of our fiscal challenges. Even a casino on every street corner cannot repair the State's $83 billion unfunded pension liability."

Read Quinn's past veto letters: Here and Here

Julian Bond and former Chicago Bear Brendon Ayanbadejo have released robocall supporting gay marriage legislation in Illinois. More details on the calls here.

The Rev. James Meeks recorded calls urging the black vote to come out against a gay marriage measure.

Former Chicago Bear Brendon Ayanbadejo and civil rights leader Julian Bond have recorded robocalls in support of gay marriage in Illinois. Here is Ayanbadejo's recording.

More details.

The Rev. James Meeks released a robocall urging the black community in Illinois to come out against gay marriage.

Investors grill UNO boss Juan Rangel

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UNO CEO Juan Rangel // Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

The Chicago Sun-Times "Watchdogs" stories about the United Neighborhood Organization have raised worries among investors in bonds issued for UNO's charter schools.

Wall Street executives fired questions at UNO CEO Juan Rangel and the group's finance director, Kathy McIntyre, during an "investor update call" on March 27. Here are some of the highlights of the hour-long conference call:

Steven Levy of Prudential Financial asks Rangel about the resignation of UNO's No. 2 executive, Miguel d'Escoto, after Sun-Times reports on state grant money that went to companies owned by two of d'Escoto's brothers.

Levy asks how UNO can afford to allow its teachers to join a union.

Rangel says a new teachers union for UNO teachers is a good idea.

A month before the state suspended grant funding to UNO, Rangel said he though state officials would continue to fund a half-built charter high school on the Southwest Side.

Pres. Obama is making a statement on the Affordable Health Care Act. Watch below.

SPRINGFIELD-Legislation passed the Illinois House Friday to give longer prison sentences to anyone caught using social media to incite flash-mob attacks and was branded as an answer to a recent rash of mob violence in Chicago.

The idea, carried by Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), cleared the House by a 102-6 vote, with two voting present, after a one-sided but intense debate invoked the January murder of 15-year old Hadiya Pendelton and questioned whether the idea could actually alleviate Chicago's violence problem.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate last month and now awaits approval from Gov. Pat Quinn.

"What is important here is that we don't have the 'OG's' like we used to," Mitchell said, referring to 'original gangster' street criminals often cited in 1990's rap music. "Gangs are different. They are more splintered. They are block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, rather than region-by-region. And they are organizing using Twitter and social media."

Under Mitchell's legislation, anyone using social media or text-messaging and convicted of taking part in mob action, a class 4 felony with a one to three year penalty, could see their prison sentences extended to three to six years. The legislation adds the use of social media to incite mob violence as an aggravating factor a judge may consider at the time of sentencing.

af1_may10.jpgIn these hard times of sequester, the federal government is looking for money however it can get it, which apparently includes selling a plane that served as both Air Force One and Two. The plane, a DC 9 aircraft (and "parts") is listed on the GSA's auction page with a starting bid of $50,000 for when the auction begins on May 15. Per the listing:

In the thirty years this aircraft was assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing (Feb 1975-Sep 2005) it flew Presidential missions, Vice President, First Lady, Cabinet Secretaries (Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, others), Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, Four-Star Generals, Admirals, Foreign Heads of State and other foreign dignitaries.

If tech specs are more your thing:


If you don't have $50,000 and the ability to get to Phoenix to fly it home, you can always just visit the Reagan Library in Southern California which also has one of the planes that served as AF1 on display. [via BuzzFeed]


It seems that many in Illinois are falling prey to the NRA's faulty logic that the only way to combat the spate of mass shootings is by buying up more guns. According to CBS 2, so many Illinois residents are applying for Firearms Owner Identification cards that the State Police are dealing with a backlog of tens of thousands of applications. Complicating matters: budget cuts have left them understaffed to deal with these applications. It's just one big, "Thanks, Obama!"

Each month in 2013 has brought a record number of applications between new applications and renewals. Of course, the reason for the spike has mored to do with the repealing of the state's concealed carry law than with, say, the Newtown massacre which happened just days later. The state is supposed to reply within 30 days but they've blown through that deadline for thousands of applications thanks to the backlog.

Meanwhile, the NRA is, of course, up in arms about the entire ordeal with the association's Illinois lobbyist Todd Vandermyde threatening to sue the state police over the backlog but wouldn't comment earlier this week, according to the State Journal, citing a recent conversation with the NRA's attorneys.

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_39010633.JPGIllinois House Speaker Michael Madigan at a meeting Thursday at the Capitol to discuss the idea of a pension 'cost-shift.' (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-House Speaker Michael Madigan fielded reporters' questions following a meeting he called at the Capitol to discuss the idea of a pension 'cost-shift,' which would make suburban and Downstate school districts pick up the state's tab to pay for teachers' and school administrators' pensions.

Madigan (D-Chicago) denied that the two competing pension proposals from him and Senate President John Cullerton are a result of big personalities, saying the efforts are "all about correcting a serious fiscal problem for the state of Illinois." The following is a transcript of the interview.

Q: When you say everybody has a problem, it sounds like that might include people who have a college tuition bill to pay.
A: "All Illinoisans are sharing in the fiscal distress of the state of Illinois. Our goal in a variety of actions here in the Legislature is to correct the fiscal problem of the state, make life for every Illinoisan a little better."

Q: Why is this format the one you've chosen?
A: "I think it'll be more effective in terms of moving the ball."

Q: How so?
A: "Nothing wrong with transparency, right? Right? I think it'll be very helpful to the members of the Legislature that there's a full open discussion about this issue because on the merits, the state of Illinois should not be paying for the pension costs of employees of local governments or other governments. That shouldn't happen. That's what we're all about. We just want to provide that the people that are spending the money are paying the bill, not somebody else."

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday called on Illinois House members to take action on a same-sex marriage bill that's been dormant there for more than 80 days, adding that he thinks the votes are there to send the measure to his desk.

"Illinois passing marriage equality into law, I think, sends a great signal to the people of our state and the people of America," Quinn told reporters after appearing at a ceremony in Springfield honoring firefighters. "So, it's important that Illinois and the House of Representatives get moving.

"I believe a majority exists to get this bill passed through the House onto my desk so I can sign it into law."

Since the state Senate sent the bill to the House on a passionate Valentine's Day vote, the House has taken votes on key issues such as pension reform, concealed carry and medical marijuana. But the full House floor has yet to debate legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois, an objective at the top of Quinn's list.

"I think, you know, it's time to vote," Quinn said. "We've waited now three months, and it's, I think, plenty of time for people to reflect on it. And now it's time to pass it."

UNO-CST-042613_7_38748517.JPGThe incomplete UNO Soccer Academy High School on the Southwest Side at 51st and St. Louis. Funding for the school has been halted over insider dealings within UNO. (Brian Jackson - Sun Times)

SPRINGFIELD-Against the wishes of Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that funding for the United Neighborhood Organization's Southwest Side charter school would remain halted due to insider dealings until the group meets Quinn's ethical standards.

"It's up to the organization called UNO to resolve their ethical problems," Quinn told reporters after a ceremony in Springfield honoring Illinois firefighters. "If they don't resolve their ethical problems, they won't get any money. Simple as that."

Burke is concerned about the stalled funding because some of the money was to be used in his district to build a new school - the half-completed UNO Soccer Academy High School at 51st and St. Louis. The school was scheduled to open in August, but its fate became uncertain when contractors abandoned the job last week.

"I want to see those children have a school they can go to, but right now what's holding that back is an organization that has some conflict of interest challenges that must be resolved," Quinn said

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_39010635.JPGSenate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) argues pension legislation while on the Senate floor Thursday. The Senate approved a union-supported pension reform bill, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the House, where lawmakers passed a competing proposal last week. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With reporting from Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois Senate put itself on a collision course with the House Thursday by approving a Democratic pension-reform package favored by unions despite opposition from Republicans and a clear signal from Gov. Pat Quinn it wasn't his preferred pension fix.

"This is not a bill that just helps us this year or next year. This will help us for the next 30 years, and we have to be practical. We have to pass a bill. This is the best chance to do so," said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the measure's chief Senate sponsor.

His legislation, which passed the Senate 40-16 and moves to the House, would wipe away about $11.5 billion of the state's nearly $100 billion pension shortfall - savings that are barely a third of a competing alternative from House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and now in the Senate's lap.

"The big problem with this bill is that it doesn't solve the problem," said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), who like most Republicans voted against the plan.

The vote came after Quinn made clear his loyalties lie with the Madigan version of pension reform, not with what the Senate voted on Thursday.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is being asked by Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois congressional delegation to declare 11 Illinois counties disasters in the wake of the April storms. Click HERE for the report.

COMED-CST-050613-7_38939929.JPGGov. Pat Quinn, pictured here from earlier this month, talked pensions in Springfield Thursday, calling for a Senate vote on House Speaker Michael Madigan's pension-reform package. (Al Podgorski-Chicago Sun-Times)

SPRINGFIELD- Gov. Pat Quinn withheld his endorsement Thursday of union-backed, pension-reform legislation favored by Senate President John Cullerton, repeatedly insisting that a "comprehensive" alternative authored by House Speaker Michael Madigan deserved a Senate vote.

Quinn's signal of support for Madigan's (D-Chicago) Senate Bill 1, which narrowly passed the House last week, came as Cullerton (D-Chicago) prepared to move his own, more worker-friendly version Thursday out of his legislative chamber.

"We have work to do," Quinn told reporters after a ceremony honoring the state's firefighters in Springfield. "I was very impressed by the fact that the principles I annunciated more than a year ago for comprehensive pension reform were contained in [Madigan's bill], and that passed the House last week. And I want to make sure [the bill] gets a vote in the Senate by the end of the month."

Cullerton's plan, which passed the Senate Thursday, was crafted with the help of the state's largest public employee unions and is shaped around standing up to an inevitable lawsuit against the state by giving employees a choice from three different benefit packages.

gopfake-CST-051013.jpgSome of the possible candidates for the Illinois GOP chairman job include (top row) Joe Walsh, Lori Yokoyama, Ron Sandack, (bottom row) Don Tracy, Tim Schneider, Mark Shaw.

**(Updated with Ron Gidwitz and Jim Oberweis)**

A livid Ron Gidwitz called out the conservative faction of the party's central committee on Thursday, telling the Sun-Times its ousting of Illinois Republican Party Chairman and lack of preparation to deal with the fallout has put a poor face on the party, "destroying" the embattled GOP's chances in next year's election.

"The state central committee -- a faction of the state central committee -- is destroying any chance that the Republican party has in 2014," an angered Gidwitz told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday. "I mean, how stupid is this! The lack of thoughtful, leadership ... The state central committee is responsible for the leadership of our party. To push out the party chairman with no plan for a replacement -- it is absurd. And with no thought to the consequences of their behavior.
They all know how I feel because I told them."

Poll: Gov. Quinn approval rating at 28 percent

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Gov. Quinn has said pension issue is his chief concern this session and while there's headway on managing the $100 billion public pension debt, the public still blames the governor for the state's mess, according to a new poll.
(It should be noted that Democrats control both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate and at the moment, there are competing pension proposals.)

A We Ask America Poll released today shows the governor has a 28 percent approval rating and 61 percent disapproval with about 10 percent having no opinion.

The automated poll says Quinn's support with Independents is eroding.

Poll type:
Automated - Date: May 8, 2013 - Participants: 1,057 Likely Voters - Margin of Error: ± 3.1%
Approve Disapprove Neutral/No opinion
ALL VOTERS 27.98% 61.69% 10.33%
BY GENDER **** **** ****
Women 28.09% 59.64% 12.27%
Men 27.83% 64.68% 7.49%
BY PARTY ID **** **** ****
Repubicans 11.01% 83.82% 5.17%
Democrats 47.55% 38.05% 14.39%
Independents 15.43% 75.74% 8.82%
BY LOCATION **** **** ****
Chicago 44.34% 41.48% 14.18%
Suburban Cook 36.26% 51.68% 12.06%
Collars 23.76% 67.14% 9.09%
Downstate 15.39% 76.96% 7.65%

Photo: Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

According to a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll of 800 registered voters, the city is pretty meh on Mayor Rahm Emanuel these days with his approval rating hovering around 50 percent but his disapproval rating is up to 40 percent. And, not surprisingly, his disapproval rating and out-of-touch rating is highest with black voters after a period of months that's seen a spike in violence, a plan to close schools, and a planned six-month shut-down of the Red Line, all things that affect predominantly black neighborhoods.

The poll has Mayor Emanuel's approval rating at 50 percent but his disapproval rating hovering at 40 percent, an increase of 21 percent from this time last year. Perhaps more important is the portion of the poll that shows a majority of voters, particularly black and hispanic voters, think Mayor Emanuel is out of touch.

Of course, this comes a few weeks after a new Crain/Ipsos poll found that 27 percent of Chicagoans approved of Emanuel's job as mayor while 28 percent disapproved and 29 percent "not sure what they believe," which brings a whole new existential crisis twist to approval rating polls.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Obama and his administration are fond of wiretaps no matter how they may adversely affect civil liberties and now it looks like the White House will back an FBI plan to overhaul its wiretapping approaching, shifting attention from phones to the Information Superhighway. From the New York Times:

The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau's ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is "going dark" as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders. That proposal, however, bogged down amid concerns by other agencies, like the Commerce Department, about quashing Silicon Valley innovation.

While the F.B.I.'s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department's attention.

The ACLU isn't exactly happy about what it claims is the FBI's ability to access electronic messages by not stepping in a big old pile of Fourth Amendment. One staffer told CNET earlier this week, "We really can't have this patchwork system anymore, where agencies get to decide on an ad hoc basis how privacy-protective they're going to be." The CNET article also lays out the reversal made by the IRS on a similar matter and how it only applies to email but not things like Google IM chats and Facebook.

Obama's complicated relationship with wiretaps began in 2010 when he signed an extension to three Patriot Act sections on wiretapping that he had previously claimed he would not do without significant reform. His extension did nothing to change the original laws. Then Obama reupped the same sections again for a four-year duration in 2011, yet again without changes. Not that Obama was alone in this: Congress happily obliged him both times. And the Dept. of Justice claimed in 2011 that it had implemented some of the suggestions for oversight originally suggested by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D, VT) (though it's debatable how much oversight these changes offer).

Either way, just know that the FBI could soon (if it doesn't already) have full access to your chats and Twitter DMs meaning they'll soon know all those nasty things you said about your coworker to that other coworker who you don't totally trust anyway. So proceed with caution.

The first Homeland Security hearing on the Boston bombings is happening now; watch live above.

SPRINGFIELD-Advocates for making Illinois the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana moved one step closer to that goal Wednesday when legislation moved out of a Senate panel over objections that it could pave the way for total legalization of the drug.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), passed the Senate committee along a 10-5 margin after passing the House last month with just one vote to spare. A less restrictive plan passed the Senate in 2009, and Haine said he expects a full floor vote on his bill as early as next week.

Supporters have touted the bill as the most restrictive of its kind in the nation, but questions during the more than hour-long debate arose over whether the bill would open up legalization of other substances and whether marijuana is an addictive 'gateway drug.'

"I've seen the devastation of illegal drugs," said Haine, who served four terms as Madison County state's attorney. "I've seen it, but we can't build a civilized society on a foundation of fear of a few people that are demented or are addicted that abuse medicines."

But Jacksonville police chief Anthony Grootens, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency for 21 years, testified that he's seen marijuana linked with other drugs such as heroin and that the amount patients could obtain under Haine's bill leaves too much room for abuse.

"I don't know if it's a gateway drug or not, but what I will tell you, in the thousands of arrests and search warrants that we've conducted...for either heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, we routinely found marijuana," Grootens said. "Does it go hand in hand? I don't know. But we found it, and we're still finding it."

Grootens claimed that even if changes were made to the bill, he wouldn't support it because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.

Under the bill, patients suffering from one of 33 diseases or illnesses, who have a prescription from a doctor with whom they have an established relationship, could purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

The four-year pilot program authorizes 22 growers and 60 dispensaries across the state and would be set to begin on Jan.1, 2014.

"This is very narrow. It's not legalization. It's not," Haine said. "If it goes to hell, I'll blow it up myself."

SPRINGFIELD-A union-backed, pension-reform package described by Senate President John Cullerton as the most constitutional way to solve Illinois' pension crisis passed a Senate panel Wednesday despite objections from Republicans and retired teachers.

The Cullerton-crafted plan advanced from the Senate Executive Committee by a 10-5, party-line roll call and now is positioned for a full Senate vote as early as Thursday.

"This model is one that's constitutional," Cullerton told the panel.

At its core, the plan gives existing government workers and downstate and suburban teachers and retirees different options that, in varying degrees, involve voluntarily giving up or delaying annual, compounding 3-percent cost-of-living increases in retirement in exchange for continued access to state-subsidized health care.

Watch live video of today's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks.

Adam Kokesh, sans tinfoil hat

Just in time for the fireworks on Independence Day, libertarian radio host Adam Kokesh is planning an open carry gun march on Washington, D.C., in clear violations of the city's gun laws, to protest what he thinks is a government attempt at "tyranny." Kokesh is organizing gun supporters to march around D.C. on July 4th, openly carrying firearms which is in defiance of Washington, D.C.'s gun laws, an act Kokesh refers to as "civil disobedience." Kokesh is no stranger to controversy thanks to his backing of the 9/11 truth movement and for thinking during the 2012 election cycle that assassinating Mitt Romney was viable plan to help Ron Paul's chances.

The Washington D.C. police chief has already responded to Kokesh's planned march.

From Buzzfeed:

Kokesh, who owns "about a dozen" guns, said there will be strict rules for how participants can carry their guns. Those with long guns must keep them slung across their back.

"It'll be an AR-15 across my back, and that's gonna be a strictly enforced protocol in order to be part of what we're doing," Kokesh said.

He said other pro-gun bigwigs might show up as well.

"I did an interview for the Alex Jones show today, and he said that he was hoping to be there but didn't make the commitment," Kokesh said.

Yes, because if there's someone whose support you want to make your cause seem even more rational and sane, it's certainly Alex Jones. And if by "Washington's tyranny" Kokesh means a bipartisan bill that had majority support in Congress, overwhelming public support, would do little to hamper the ability to purchase firearms, and yet still failed, well, okay. Whatever.

Of course, proponents of the march that the Bill of Rights is an old document - ratified 222 years ago - and from time to time, our Constitution needs to be amended because the course of human events necessitates change (see: the 13th and 14th Amendments). The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, well before the invention of semi-automatic weapons, well before these weapons could find their way into the hands of teenagers, and well before the evolution of the mass-shooting. It's unlikely that Thomas Jefferson had a massacre like the Sandy Hook Elementary or Aurora, Colorado shootings in mind when this was being written, yet gun proponents - including the organizers of this march - love to quote him and use his words as support for their cause. The invite for the march includes this quote from Jefferson: "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

But what about when the people fear other people? The Second Amendment was written at a time when the United States was newly independent, freeing the yolk of the then-all-powerful British Empire. Now days, the biggest threat to Americans is ourselves; U.S. gun deaths over the last 30 years outpace terror-related deaths by an astronomical margin. The entire point of the Constitutional Amendments is our own government's realizations that things change and our constitution should change along with it, that nothing necessarily needs to be set in stone. If we as a country see fit to tweak the primary document of our government to adapt it to the context of our current state of affairs, why is the Second Amendment exempt from such tweaks?

Perhaps even more ludicrous than calling this march an act of "civil disobedience" is Kokesh's comment to Buzzfeed saying, "I'm going to be a lot safer at this event than I would be on the streets of Chicago." While it's no secret that Chicago does have a horrendous gun problem, this flippant remark not only shows how disconnected Kokesh is from understanding the city's complex gang problem (I doubt he'd be in danger simply walking around Bucktown or Lincoln Square, it shows how clearly he doesn't understand that so much of the city's gun violence is thanks to people like him fighting gun laws. An investigation by the Tribune earlier this year showed how easy it is, thanks to the lack of any background checks, for straw purchasers to buy guns in Indiana and then flood Chicago streets with them. If Kokesh is worried about his safety from gun violence in Chicago, perhaps he should do something about preventing the guns from getting to the city rather than flood the market with more guns.

As I pointed out the other day, the NRA's (and many gun proponents') logic is horribly faulty: to battle the epidemic of guns, make sure more people are armed. It's the only time I've ever heard any suggest that the only solution to stopping something that's harmful to people is by flooding the world with even more of that thing. And Kokesh himself told Buzzfeed that "he can't fully guarantee that no one in the group will do anything dangerous. 'No, but that's never true, and that's one of the realities in our daily lives,' he said. 'We largely do trust the people around us to not kill us. Human life is really fragile.'" And yet Kokesh will march, in essence, in opposition the government's attempts to institute very bland, basic laws that try to give just a shred of added protection to our fragile nature.

In this Dec. 4, 2006 file photo reviewed by a U.S. Dept of Defense official, a detainee shields his face as he peers out through the so-called "bean hole" which is used to pass food and other items into detainee cells, at Camp Delta detention center, Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Llinsley)

Last week, as the news came of a widespread hunger strike among Guantanamo Bay prisoners and President Obama once again mentioned closing the detention camp, Slate magazine published three excerpts of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner's memoir.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi began writing the memoir in 2005 and it reached 466 pages by the time he finished it the following year. The United States government kept the memoir classified for years but has since declassified the document though with redacted sections. It's a fascinating document that details the questioning and torture Slahi faced and in light of the recent hunger strike and Obama's promise once again to close the camp, it's a vital reading to understand the perspective of those who have been held for over 10 years while not facing trial and, in some cases - including Slahi's, ordered released by a U.S. judge only to have the government refuse the order.

It's a remarkable series providing, for the first time, insight into the mind of a man accused of plotting terrorist attacks and held prisoner years without a trial and no idea when he might be freed or tried, a rare glimpse of what it's like to be in that unenviable position. As Larry Siems points out in his introduction on Slate:

And yet Slahi's writing is much more than a litany of abuses. It is driven by something much deeper: not just the desire to "be fair," as he puts it, but to understand his guards, his interrogators, and his fellow detainees as protagonists in their own right, and to show that even the most dehumanizing situations are composed of individual, and at times harrowingly intimate, human exchanges. The result is an account that is both damning and redeeming.

Thumbnail image for JOEWALSHFREE.jpeg

***Updated with comments from Joe Walsh ***

Former Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to form a new PAC.

Its name: Grow Up & Be Free.

"What I'm doing is I've been traveling the state for the last four months. We are trying to grow a movement of people in Illinois to tell their politicians - they want to grow up, keep more of what we've make... We already have 2,000 members," Walsh told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.
Walsh said he wants to grow the movement "so it's a force in Illinois," and is positioned to support Illinois candidates.
Walsh said he wants it to be a grass-roots movement in Illinois then possibly branch out to support national candidates.

Anthony Barry, who has worked with Walsh in his past campaign, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday the reason behind the political action committee.

"He set up a leadership PAC to support real conservative candidates who believe in the principles of freedom and liberty," Barry said.
As far as who's supporting it: "It's just getting off the ground," Barry said.

Papers filed with the FEC show that Walsh's wife, Helene Miller-Walsh is listed as treasurer.

Walsh lost in a bid for reelection to U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth last fall.
He has since landed a radio gig on AM 560 The Answer.

ny_mothersday.jpgChicago graphic artist Chris Ware is no stranger to thought-provoking New Yorker covers. And now the excellent Ware has taken another step with this week's cover for the Mother's Day issue featuring a lesbian couple. It's a fantastic twist on what could be a Norman Rockwell cover, one that shows how far the nation has come in terms of accepting the LGBT community and it's (slow) march towards true, full equality. In a blog post on the New Yorker website, Ware says:

In the spirit of openheartedness and what life is really all about, I'll go so far as to say that the fear of others may mask some deep-seated desire to understand, and maybe even to love. Because really, what is there to be afraid of? Few people today don't know--or have in their families--at least one loving couple who are raising children, same-sex or not. And it's really just the loving part that matters. That same-sex marriage could go from its preliminary draft of "diagnosable" to the final edit of "so what?" must indicate some positive evolution on the part of the larger human consciousness.

It's a terrific cover for an exciting time, one that Ware's home state of Illinois could get in on soon if the Illinois House takes up the gay marriage bill already passed by the State Senate.

President Obama welcomes South Korea president Park Heun-Hye to the White House where the two will participate in a joint press conference. Watch live coverage of the presser below.

Illinois Unites rallies around outgoing GOP Chair

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"Under Pat Brady's leadership, the Republican Party has stayed focused on its core value: that government should respect people's private lives. And I am proud of his support of the freedom to marry. I hope that even after his departure, the party leaders continue that support for the freedom to marry - or else the party is going to be irrelevant for the future generation of voters," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois said in a statement. "Pat Brady supported all Illinois families with his endorsement of the freedom to marry, and now we honor his decision to resign to focus on his family, and we wish them all the best."

No, this doesn't have to do with politics. But this video is so good we had to post it.
Somehow, it will circle back into the political world. Promise.


The state's top-ranking Republican made clear Tuesday his support was unwavering for the outgoing Illinois party chairman who controversially backed same sex marriage.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) thanked Brady for his years of service to the Republican state party.
"Whether as a federal prosecutor or leading the Illinois Republican Party, Pat Brady has spent the last several years selflessly serving his community and party and I thank him for his service," Kirk said in a statement today.
Pat Brady announced Tuesday morning he was stepping down from the helm of the GOP, in part
Brady said his departure had several tenets to it but chief among them, he wanted to scale back to spend more time with his wife who is battling cancer.
"I respect and understand Pat's decision to spend more time with his wife Julie during this difficult time in their lives," Kirk said. "Julie is a fighter and I will continue to pray for her, Pat and the kids as they move forward."
Brady had rankled some conservatives in the party when he announced he was backing same sex marriage. Kirk later announced his own support for same sex marriage.


Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady went out on a limb in support of gay marriage -- and on Tuesday, as he announced he was stepping down, he said he has no regrets about that decision.
"Absolutely not," Brady said Tuesday. "I believe 100 percent in my position on that issue, as does Sen. (Mark) Kirk."
Kirk -- the highest-ranking Republican in Illinois -- had come out out in support of gay marriage.
Brady said when he offered support earlier this year, he was speaking for himself, not the entirety of the party platform.
"That's the whole issue, are we going to allow people to have a diversity of opinions? It's that old cliche: 'my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy.' When we were working under those rules, we won. I'm very optimistic on the future, it's just this last four months were an unfortunate byproduct."
As for that future, Brady said the GOP in Illinois has a great one and the party should lean more heavily on its elected leadership -- people like Kirk, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
"We need to change the way things are done. It's almost like two parallel tracks, the elected leadership that's good and strong, and this party apparatus that I've been dealing with that's not in sync with what's going on," Brady said. "The political leadership has to recognize it's not 1980 anymore."
Who should take the helm, in Brady's view?
"I think it's time we need to put a different face on the party. I'd like to see a woman do it," Brady said, noting it would boost Republican chances with suburban women. Brady said there are elected Republican women throughout the state who would be a good fit."If I said (their names), it would probably hurt their chances," he said laughing.
"I'm saddened. Pat has been a dear friend of mine for years," said Republican state Rep. Jim Durkin. Durkin (R-Westchester) said he and Brady are 20-year friends; having worked together at 26th and California as young assistant state's attorneys. He said Brady told him of his intentions earlier on Monday.
Brady announced his resignation Tuesday morning.
"He's a fearless advocate for the Republican party. He's raised more money than any other chairman has raised in my lifetime," Durkin said. "He took on the Democratic party like no other Chairman has in my lifetime."
Brady caused a hub-bub within the Republican ranks after he came out in support of gay marriage. Conservative Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) was the chief architect behind attempts to oust Brady. Those attempts, ultimately fell short, without enough Republican backing to dethrone Brady and high-ranking GOP members -- including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk -- coming to his defense. Oberweis has told the Sun-Times that his opposition to Brady was not due to Brady's support for gay marriage, but because Brady on his own took a position against the party platform.
For weeks, Brady had been expected to step down on his own terms.
"Pat is leaving on terms that he's imposed upon himself," said Durkin. He's got a family. He wants to spend more time and take care of his family."
Durkin wanted to make one last point: "He did not do this to advance a political career for himself," he said. "I hope people will thank him and appreciate the good things he's done. Pat is not afraid to speak up but nobody's going to bully him either."
The next big question is who will replace Brady and help lead a Republican party that has barely limped through the last couple elections.
One name that's surfaced Monday night is Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider of Bartlett.

Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady to resign Tuesday

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He went out on a limb in support of gay marriage.
Now, Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady is expected to step down on Tuesday, according to a close friend and colleague.
"I'm saddened. Pat has been a dear friend of mine for years," said Republican state Rep. Jim Durkin. Durkin (R-Westchester) said he and Brady are 20-year friends; having worked together at 26th and California as young assistant state's attorneys. He said Brady told him of his intentions earlier on Monday.
Brady is expected to announce his resignation Tuesday morning in a news release. He could not be reached for comment.
"He's a fearless advocate for the Republican party. He's raised more money than any other chairman has raised in my lifetime," Durkin said. "He took on the Democratic party like no other Chairman has in my lifetime."
Brady caused a hub-bub within the Republican ranks after he came out in support of gay marriage. Conservative Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) was the chief architect behind attempts to oust Brady. Those attempts, ultimately fell short, without enough Republican backing to dethrone Brady and high-ranking GOP members -- including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk -- coming to his defense. Oberweis has told the Sun-Times that his opposition to Brady was not due to Brady's support for gay marriage, but because Brady on his own took a position against the party platform.
For weeks, Brady had been expected to step down on his own terms.
"Pat is leaving on terms that he's imposed upon himself," said Durkin. He's got a family. He wants to spend more time and take care of his family."
Durkin wanted to make one last point: "He did not do this to advance a political career for himself," he said. "I hope people will thank him and appreciate the good things he's done. Pat is not afraid to speak up but nobody's going to bully him either."
The next big question is who will replace Brady and help lead a Republican party that has barely limped through the last couple elections.
One name that's surfaced Monday night is Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider of Bartlett.

SPRINGFIELD-Senate President John Cullerton Monday touted a new, more generous pension-reform package crafted with public-employee unions - a deal the top Senate Democrat said wouldn't invite a constitutional challenge and could pass his chamber this week.

Cullerton (D-Chicago) said the plan has the support of "virtually every Democrat" in his 40-member caucus and could be voted on by the full Senate as early as Thursday. Yet, it failed to win any initial plaudits from House Speaker Michael Madigan's camp.

The Cullerton deal save less money than a Hous alternative and would offer existing employees and retirees different benefit packages built upon tradeoffs that mostly involve existing 3-percent annual pension boosts that compound annually and state-subsidized health care.

The plan is "all based on a model that gives people a choice," Cullerton told reporters. "I believe it's the strongest argument for a bill to be constitutional."

Cullerton said his proposal is "less risky" because unions intend to support it and not challenge it in court, as they vowed to do with a House version backed by Madigan.

The version represents a more generous offer to unions and does less to make a dent in the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis than the plan that passed the House last week.

Cullerton's proposal would wipe out about $10 billion of the nearly $100 billion pension shortfall, compared to about $30 billion under the House version.

The Senate Democratic plan also would save the state nearly $46 billion in pension payments over the next 30 years while the House plan would save around $140 billion.

"What they're doing is they're unilaterally reducing benefits," Cullerton said of the House and its pension-reform version. "We're asking folks to voluntarily reduce benefits. Contractually, that's how we get around constitutional provisions. That's why we don't save as much. That's why we feel it's constitutional."

A Madigan aide stopped short of shooting down Cullerton's plan entirely but repeatedly stressed it doesn't carry the same financial impact as the plan the House passed.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times he had seen fact sheets about Cullerton's proposal, and they "frankly don't seem like they save much money. We'll have to take a hard look at that. The idea is to try to save some money and get the pension systems out of the plight they're in.

Asked if the union plan would pass the House if it emerges from the Senate, Brown said, "I have no way of knowing. It doesn't look like it saves money."

Under the union-backed Cullerton plan, existing employees would have two basic choices.

They could keep their compounding 3-percent cost-of-living increase as retirees in exchange for variations of giving up state-subsidized health care, not having pay increases count toward their pensions, delaying pension boosts by three years or paying 2 percent more in employee contributions over two years.

Or, they could keep a less generous, non-compounding 3-percent cost-of-living increase in retirement, get state-subsidized health care and enroll in an optional cash-balance plan.

Existing retirees could keep their 3-percent compounding cost-of-living increases and state-subsidized health care if they agree to a two-year freeze on cost-of-living increases in non-consecutive years.

Those retirees unwilling to accept that freeze would have to give up their state-subsidized health care.

"The union coalition has made a great effort to ensure fairness for the public employees and retirees who did not cause this problem, to ensure the stability of the pension systems for future generations, and to offer a credible way forward," said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. "This agreement is our coalition's bottom line."

Cullerton did not signal any intention to kill the House plan that passed last week.

"Let's first see what happens with this and see what the reaction to this is," he told reporters.

The House plan that passed last week focused heavily on changing how cost-of-living increases are figured in retirement for those with state pension.

It recalculated that cost-of-living increase in a far less generous manner, using a template offered by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). A retiree would get 3 percent of an amount equal to the number of years they worked for state government, a university or Downstate and suburban school district, multiplied by $1,000.

This seems to be the only handshake Time Tebow and President Obama will share anytime soon - when Tebow's National Championship Florida Gators visited the White House in 2009. | Getty Images

Fans of Tim Tebow reached out for help from a higher power to keep their favorite quarterback/punching bag in the NFL.

No, not that higher power. They took to the new favorite repository of lost causes and political screeds - the White House's We The People petition site in an effort to get First Fan President Obama to intercede on their behalf. Sadly for Tebow and the fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars who wanted to see him back in Florida, though, this drive ends in characteristic disappointment.

On Monday, the White House removed the petition, which sought to usurp the common sense of the Jaguars rookie general manager:

Jacksonville Jaguars fans want the team to sign recently released QB Tim Tebow. However, rookie general manager for the Jacksonville Jaguars David Caldwell is blocking this from happening. If the Jaguars sign & START Tebow, home games will be sold out, sales will spike, the team will win and the fans will be happy.Mr. Caldwell is ignoring lots of facts about the misunderstood Tim Tebow while in Denver: Passer rating of 125.6 is highest ever in Broncos postseason history. Most yards per completion (31.6) in NFL playoff history.100.5 QB rating is best ever for a Broncos QB in his first start.Third most passing yards in a game by a Bronco rookie QB. (308, in his 2nd start), First 15+ point comeback in the final 3 minutes of an NFL game since the merger, 7 game winning drives in just 16 games!

The petition only managed a few hundred signatures before being yanked - just shy of the 100,000 needed.


If Jesse Jackson Jr. tells a judge he stole and stole from his campaign fund because he couldn't control himself, he wouldn't be the first.

Arguing you're a shopaholic, believe it or not, has been used to a degree of success in federal court.

(In case you missed it, read Sunday's Sun-Times story on Jesse Jackson Jr. using illness to get break on sentence.)

In 2003, Elizabeth Roach of Chicago was convicted of embezzling $250,000 from her job at then-Andersen Consulting. Her defense at sentencing: She was a shopaholic. Depression led her to shop compulsively, she argued, including for a $7,000 belt buckle and $3,000 earrings at Neiman Marcus.

Prosecutors in D.C. have said they want to have their own experts evaluate Jackson, which isn't unusual. On Friday, the U.S. Attorney's office had no further comment and so far haven't filed anything publicly on the merits of Jackson's bipolar depression. Jackson and his wife are scheduled for a July 1st sentencing. Though the two agreed to a sentencing range in a plea deal, their lawyers are free to ask for less time.

The ex-congressman's top lawyer, Reid Weingarten, had said his client's behavior -- embezzling $750,000 from his campaign fund to lavish himself and his wife with a $40,000 Rolex watch, spending $5,000 on four mink and fur capes in one day, rare memorabilia, and pricey vacations -- was directly linked to his illness.

In legal circles, asking a judge to give a break in a prison term due to illness comes with the territory. Check out Max Rust's graphic for how this has worked in the past. Click Here


As headlines around the world highlight the city of Chicago's issue with violence, one pro-gun group has what it thinks is a brilliant solution for the city: free guns. At the NRA's convention in Houston over the weekend - just days after a guy opened fire in the Houston Airport - the Armed Citizen Project announced plans to flood 15 cities, including Chicago, with free guns.

Said the group's founder, Kyle Coplen, according to CBS 2, "It's our hypothesis that criminals do not want to die in your hallway. We think that society should use that fear to deter crime. We're giving folks the tools with which to defend their life, liberty and property, we're training them how to use the weapons and empowering citizens." By the ACP's (faulty) logic, nothing makes for a good experiment like releasing a large number of instruments proven to cause mass death and mayhem in a city that is already suffering from mass death and mayhem. It's doubtful, for example, that the CDC thinks zeroing in on a town rife with swine flu and releasing more strains of the virus in that area would do much to reduce the number of people who die from swine flu.

But I digress.

According to the ACP's website, the group is moving forward with this "fight" because:

Gun-control advocates often argue that an increase in guns in an area will lead to an increase in crime, while gun-rights advocates often believe that fewer guns result in more crime. While both sides often argue that their opponents policies will result in more crime, gun-control proponents have largely been the victors when it comes to policy implementation. Pro-gun activists have largely been content to simply fend off new potential gun control laws. It is our belief that gun-rights activists must take the offensive, and actively encourage the increased presence of defensive weapons in society. Both sides believe that their policies will result in less crime, and it is about time that our side begins to act with the conviction and courage that it will take to win the debate.

In an interview with DNA Info, Coplen, an Indiana native, described himself as a Cubs fan and said, "It really breaks my heart to see what's going on in that city." Coplen is checking with his attorneys to make sure handing out deadly weapons for free in Chicago is legal here, saying Chicago's strict gun laws will be a good litmus test for his project. The group's website hails the beginning of the project in Houston, giving the city's "poor" residents (whatever that means) a single-shot shotgun, meaning we'll finally live to see the film Hobo With A Shotgun come to life. Other cities in the ACP's bulls-eye are New York and Detroit, which means we'll finally live to see the film Robocop come to life.

PRESIDENT-OAK-041113-19_37828271.JPGIncoming Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, pictured here on the left during election night last month at his restaurant, can keep his ownership in Maya Del Sol after Gov. Pat Quinn Sunday signed legislation to relax a ban on public officials having liquor licenses. | J.Geil ~ For Sun-Times Media

SPRINGFIELD-Incoming Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb will get to keep his restaurant and its liquor license after taking the oath of office Tuesday as the near west suburb's top village official.

That's because Gov. Pat Quinn Sunday signed legislation that relaxes a state law banning mayors of small- and mid-sized municipalities from holding a liquor license.

Under legislation Quinn enacted, a state ban on public officials holding a liquor license is lifted in towns of 55,000 or less. Before Sunday, the ownership ban applied to towns of 50,000 or less.

Oak Park had an estimated population of 52,104 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Abu-Taleb, who is scheduled to be sworn into office on Monday, owns Maya Del Sol, a popular Oak Park restaurant. He won election last month with more than 58 percent of the vote.

URBAN_CASINO_CHICAGO_38900233.JPGIllinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe condemned newly-revised gambling-expansion legislation as a "Christmas tree" bill that had undergone only "cosmetic changes" to address concerns by state regulators. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois' top gambling regulator Friday ripped revamped legislation to bring Chicago a casino, saying the bill's architect made only "cosmetic changes" to the latest version that passed the Senate and reigniting a roiling feud with a top lawmaker.

"It doesn't deal with my concerns, no. Absolutely not. They made some cosmetic changes with regards to a Chicago casino...on a couple of things. But they haven't addressed a whole slew of things they should talk about," Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), the legislation's top Senate sponsor, blasted Jaffe's comments Friday, accusing the agency's board chairman of far exceeding his authority.

"He doesn't regulate what we write in a bill," Link told the Sun-Times. "That offends me, really. This guy is so overboard on this it's unbelievable."

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 32-20 on a revamped gambling-expansion package that would bring a casino to Chicago and casinos to the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville. The legislation also would outfit racetracks and potentially Chicago's two airports with slot machines.

CORRECTION_ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_19334237.JPGRep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), pictured in this 2011 file photo, failed Friday to pass legislation that would permit the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to publish the names of tollway scofflaws owing $1,000 or more on the Internet. The bill stalled after state Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) said she misvoted. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-A plan to shame the worst-of-the-worst tollway scofflaws by publishing their names on the Internet failed Friday in the Illinois House but may live to see another day.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) is the lead House sponsor of legislation that would permit the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to publish the names on the Internet of anyone owing more than $1,000 in tollway fines.

"This is just an additional tool to embarrass people so maybe they'll pay what they owe," Lang said.

But his legislation went down Friday on a 59-53 roll call after a colleague, state Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison), said she "accidentally" misvoted and thus deprived the measure of the 60th vote it needed to pass. But Lang kept it alive for a later vote.

During floor debate, Lang said the tollway is owed about $300 million and cited three examples of businesses that owed $19,000 or more. In one instance, without naming names, Lang spoke of a Streamwood company that had a staggering $152,000 in unpaid tolls and penalties.

"The fact is the tollway has a lot money due and owing to it," he said. "The thought is if they'd post these names, people would want to pay up pretty darn quickly to get their names off the Internet."

Lang said the tollway would not put a person's or business' name on the Internet unless they had failed to pay up after having gotten nine separate notices from the toll highway authority.

But opponents argued the legislation, Senate Bill 1214, gave motorists no ability to contest the tollway in court, particularly in instances where someone else is driving a motorist's vehicle and not paying.

"I have no doubt this is well-intended, but I think we're going down a bad path shaming people," said Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).

Lang thought he had 60 votes to pass the bill. After learning he didn't, Willis acknowledged she'd pressed the wrong button on her voting console and asked to be recorded as a supporter. Her move didn't negate the need for a new vote later this month.

In mid-April, the Senate passed the legislation by a 35-9 vote. State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) was the lead Senate sponsor.

Madigan: 'We've taken the first step in the House'

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ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_38886055.JPGIllinois House Speaker Michael Madigan presented to House members Thursday his pension reform package, which narrowly passed and now moves to the Senate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) took questions from reporters Thursday after eking his pension reform package through the House on a 62-51 vote, with two House members voting present and three absent. The following is a transcript of the interview, during which Madigan commented on his pension plan among other issues like hydraulic 'fracking' and same-sex marriage.

Q: Did you have a harder time getting members to come on board as Senate President John Cullerton was working on a separate plan with union leaders?
A: "That wasn't our experience as we worked through the roll call. It was a difficult roll call to work but not because of action in the Senate. The difficulty would relate to opposition from unions and from teachers unions and from citizens who have already retired and are drawing their pension. But none of it related to the Senate."

Q: You vowed to do whatever you can to get the bill to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. What does that mean now that it's in the Senate?
A: "Well, I'm committed to the bill. I'm committed to solving the issue. I've spoken to this publicly that the state's fiscal problems are so bad that they require radical surgery, and this is the first step. We've taken that first step in the House. My expectation is that the Senate will approve this bill."

Q: Have you been briefed at all on Cullerton's negotiations with the unions?
A: "I could clearly see the fine work of Mr. Henry Bayer, who is an expert at delay. I think this is a continuation of what we experienced a year ago from Henry Bayer and the We Are One coalition where day to day they simply want delay. Delay. Delay. Because maybe the problem will go away. It's precisely what they did on the collective bargaining. And they only came to a conclusion on the collective bargaining because they knew there would be action in the Legislature."

Q: Will this action in the House spur unions to greater heights with the Senate?
A: "I really don't know what they'll do, but I don't expect that they'll be able to come to an agreement such that people would be prepared to back away from this bill. There's two chambers here, and both chambers have to pass the same bill. The House has passed a bill and so whatever the Senate does, I don't think it will achieve the cost savings that the House bill will achieve."

Q: Does the motion to reconsider keep the bill from moving to the Senate?
A: "No, it prevents somebody from rethinking what they did."

Q: Has the position to approve the back raises for unions been changed?
A: "Were going to take it with the budget making process. And we've discussed it already in our caucus. So, there is resistance from certain members of our caucus to appropriating the back pay, which is either $140 million or $166 million. The number changes. In addition, there's concern in our caucus about appropriating for the future raises that were put into the contract because they're in competition with the other spending purposes of the state."

Q: To what extent do you hold the blame for the longstanding nature of this problem in your 37 years here?
A: "It's 43."

Q: To what extent as your 30-some years as speaker?
A: "Get that number straight. There's plenty of blame to go around, and I'm not shirking the responsibility."

Q: Are you going to proceed with the budget?
A: "We're going to proceed, but there's an open invitation to the House Republicans to participate with us. I think you'll find that some will and some will not."

Q: What about fracking? Republicans had a press conference. Labor leaders sent you a letter...
A: "Some labor leaders sent me a letter. Some did. And some didn't."

"I think that we'll do a bill on fracking where the environmental groups have told us it's the strongest environmental regulations in the nation, yeah, I think we'll do a bill. I'm for a moratoroium, but I think we'll do a bill."

Q: What was the tipping point in passing today's pension reform bill?
A: "I think it was the vote that we took about two weeks ago simply on the COLA adjustment where it got 66 votes. I think that told the tale, and then we put the bill together. Today, we were four votes short of that, but it was a good roll call."

Q: Will you address the cost-shift that was left out of this pension bill? When?
A: "I will. I will. In the short-term, we'll be addressing that issue."

Q: Have you been involved in getting votes for same-sex marriage?
A: "We've been working on behalf of marriage equality. We're a little closer, but we're not yet there. But we're a little closer."

***From a separate interview a few minutes later...

Madigan: "I think that everyone in the Legislature agrees that the fiscal condition of the state's pension systems is a great problem that faces the state, and I think that this is a first step towards bringing fiscal stability to the state in general. But this is a good first place to begin."

Q: What are the bill's chances in Senate?
A: "My expectation is the bill will pass the Senate."

Q: Have you spoken to Cullerton about it?
A: "I have. On several occasions."

Q: Cullerton hasn't committed to working a roll call though. So what makes you so confident?
A: "Maybe it's that 43 years around this building."

President Obama responded to an FDA ruling on the morning after pill only being allowed over-the-counter for those 15 and older, saying he is "comfortable with it...based on solid scientific evidence."

Obama's administration wants the pill be allowed for all ages.

Obama said there was another way to look at the ruling, which was: "They're now allowing these contraceptives to be sold for 15 year olds and older." "It has not resolved the question of girls younger than 15," he acknowledged.

Obama is in Mexico and held a joint news conference with Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto.

White House photo

In brief remarks from the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City on Thursday, President Obama said strengthening trade between Mexico and the United States would boost both economies.

Obama also said he was hopeful that "common sense" immigration reform would happen in Congress.

"I'm optimistic we're finally going to get comprehensive immigration reform passed," he said and mentioned he would talk more on the subject on Friday. He said he envisioned legislation in the U.S. "that lives up to our tradition of a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

He also had something to say in response to U.S. Sen. Mark Rubio's (R-Fla.) criticism of the current immigration bill.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) along with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) will appear together at LEARN Public Charter School at the Great Lakes Naval Station.
Here's the details

The availability will immediately follow a visit to Great Lakes Naval Station where the Congressmen will meet with Base Commander CAPT Randy Lynch and other leaders to discuss the future of the station.

Durbin is the chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the military and intelligence community and the daily needs of over two million active duty and reserve service members. Today's visit to Great Lakes is the third and final in a series of visits he has made in recent months to Illinois' major military installations. He has previously visited the Rock Island Arsenal in the Quad Cities and Scott Air Force Base outside St. Louis.

Following the media availability, the Congressmen will visit a seventh grade classroom and meet with LEARN's principal Michelle Cooney, the Network President and CEO Gregory White, North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, and other area leaders to discuss educational opportunities in the city. The classroom visit will be open to the media.

TIME: 1:00 PM
LOCATION: LEARN Public Charter School
3131 Sheridan Road
Great Lakes, IL

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan admitted Thursday that votes in the House to legalize same-sex marriage are still short of passage but acknowledged the House is getting closer to sending a bill to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.

"We're a little closer, but we're not yet there. But we're a little closer," Madigan (D-Chicago) told reporters after his plan to resolve the state's pension fiasco inched through the House.

The measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry has been sitting in the House since the Senate narrowly moved it there with an emotional Valentine's Day vote. A couple of weeks later, the bill eked out of a House panel along a 6-5 vote and has been awaiting a full floor vote since then as the bill's chief House sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), continues to work a roll call.

The speaker has long supported same-sex marriage, or 'marriage equality' as he calls it, and posited in March that the vote was a dozen votes shy of passage. A similar bill to the one now in the House failed to gain enough traction during the Legislature's 'lame-duck' session in January, but that was before certain protections for religious organizations were added.

Harris had said in March that he thought the roll call was much closer than the 12-vote gap put forth by Madigan, but the openly-gay sponsor of the bill has been guarded when it comes to revealing the nature of his tally or the timing of when members might be asked to take a vote.

Harris had hoped to make Illinois the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage, but lawmakers in Rhode Island beat him to the punch on Thursday when they advanced a bill to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who said he would sign it. But no matter when Harris' bill is called on the House floor, he has said his measure will pass because most Illinoisans think it's the right thing to do.

Gov. Pat Quinn is also on board with giving same-sex couples the right to marry in Illinois and has said he would sign Harris' bill if it passes the House.

Behind President Obama's Mexico trip

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Crowds of people lined the streets of downtown Mexico City today as President Obama traveled to the Palacio National for a meeting in this city as the first stop of a brief Latin American jaunt.

After a meeting, President Obama is to give a joing news conference with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico.

Obama later heads to Costa Rica.

Obama's trip to Mexico comes as Congress is taking up immigration reform legislation, which could affect millions of Mexicans living in the United States -- not to mention Chicago.

Click below to read the White House's statement regarding the meeting:

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_38883037.JPGHouse Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) speaks to lawmakers Thursday while on the House floor where he passed legislation to tackle a Goliath-sized public-employee pension deficit. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With reporting by Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House Thursday narrowly backed a bi-partisan pension-reform package pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan in a move Gov. Pat Quinn called "the biggest step to date" in solving the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

After a sober, hour-long succession of speeches mostly favoring Madigan's plan, the House signed off on his push 62-51, with six members voting present. Sixty votes were needed for the speaker's measure to clear the House. It now moves to the Senate.

"This bill has been worked assiduously by many, many people. Obviously, it does not meet every request. Obviously, it does not make everybody happy," Madigan said as the bustling House chamber quieted during his pitch.

"I think we're all familiar with the severe fiscal problems of our state, and the fiscal problems of the pension systems are a large, large part of that problem. In my judgment, this is a critical action that must be taken now. It must be taken for future budget making. It must be taken for the fiscal wellbeing and reputation of the state of Illinois," Madigan said.

Twenty-two House Republicans sided with Madigan's push, with Democrats accounting for the rest of the "yes" votes. Among the Republicans backing the plan was House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), who signed on to Madigan's legislation as a co-sponsor.

FLOOD-CST-042313-27_38759925.JPGIllinois Gov. Pat Quinn, pictured here in Peoria earlier this month, fielded reporters' questions on competing pension reform ideas and a plan to expand gambling in the state, including adding a casino in Chicago. (Brian Powers-Sun Times Media)

SPRINGFIELD-The following is a transcript from Gov. Pat Quinn's answers to reporters' questions following an Illinois police memorial ceremony at the state Capitol in Springfield on Thursday. Quinn weighed in on House Speaker Michael Madigan's (D-Chicago) latest pension package as well as a gambling expansion plan, which includes a Chicago casino, that passed the Senate Wednesday.

Q: How do you like the gambling expansion bill?
A: "Well, it has some improvements. I was glad that they put in the ban on campaign contributions from casino operators."

"I think there are other things that can be worked on. That's why we have two houses of the Legislature. We certainly plan to work with the House and try to make the bill as good as it should be."

Q: Where does the bill need improvement?
A: "Well, we're going to be working with the House members in the areas I think are important, which are ethical oversight, making sure that revenues are adequate for education of our whole state. There are going to be revenues. We want to make sure it's focused on education and important for public purposes, and I think it's important to hear from House members as well what their thoughts are."

Q: Is there enough time left in the session to get a bill passed?
A: "Well, you have to do it right the first time. And so until it's absolutely right, then I don't plan to sign anything. I think there's adequate time this month to work together on a good bill, and I think progress has been made. I look forward to continued progress, and I think eventually when the bill goes through the House there will be improvements and we can hopefully get to the final product that will be the best way to go."

Q: Is there too much 'pork' in the bill?
A: "No, I don't think so. If we're going to have proceeds of gaming, I certainly want to make sure that education is not forgotten. So, I think that is an area that needs some improvement."

"You've got to have close oversight over priorities. The top priority is education."

Q: Have you been apprised at all of the so-called union proposal on pension reform?
A: "You know, I haven't seen that. I heard about it. I haven't seen it, so I look forward to looking at it."

Q: Where do you think we are on pensions right now?
A: "I think good progress. I think the bill that came out of committee in the House yesterday had the things that I talked about a year ago - that we had to address retirement age and the cost-of-living adjustment and employee contribution. Those are all principles that I talked about. I think also the guarantee that the state never do what it has done in the past, which is not pay its proper amount. Those are all elements of pension reform that I think are very good, and I sure hope the House acts today. We've never had a comprehensive bill passed by either house covering all the important pension systems and covering it in a comprehensive way. So if that happens today, that'll be a very good step forward."

Q: What does it mean if a bill reaches your desk without union support? Would you sign it?
A: "Well, we have a bicameral Legislature. There's two houses of the Legislature, and I respect that. I think it's important for the executive branch to let both houses of the Legislature have their look at any issue, whether it's gaming or pension reform or anything else. So, the Senate is going to be taking up a bill if it passes the House. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've never, ever passed a bill out of either house. And so today is an opportunity, I think, in the vote in the House of Representatives to finally get a comprehensive pension bill passed. So that would be a step forward."

Q: This is your preferred bill, though?
A: "Well I want to make sure that everybody has their say in both houses of the Legislature. I respect the Senate. I respect the House. I think it's important for a governor to do that, to always have members of both houses weigh in and give their point of view."

Q: What do you do to get it through the Senate?
A: "Well, we have to do it. The sooner it's done the better. I do think it's important that both houses of the Legislature know that it's imperative this month that we pass a bill through both houses that comes to me so I can sign it into law. So, I want to make that point very clear to all the members of the Legislature. We cannot delay. We cannot postpone. Our moment in history to get new pension reform is right now."

Q: Why not include judges in the bill?
A: "There are some constitutional principles that are in the Illinois Constitution that make that more difficult. The judges have a little different status, and there's been a court case, a supreme court case that's already addressed that matter."

Q: Are you prepared to sign pensions the way it is sitting in the House now?
A: "Wel,l I think we need to pass a bill through the House, hopefully today that vote takes place. That'll be a historic moment for our state of Illinois. At least one house of the Legislature is voting for comprehensive pension reform. It then goes to the next house, and they should have their chance to address the issue. But the bottom line for me and I think for the taxpayers and people of Illinois is to get the job done this month. We must have, through both houses of the Legislature, a final bill that arrives on my desk that I will promptly and quickly sign and move our state forward."

Q: If it passes and gets to your desk, is it because of your efforts or in spite of them?
A: "Well, I was speaking about this issue all year long, and for that matter I signed a bill in 2010 dealing with future employees. I did that, and I'm going to do the current employees as soon as the bill arrives. It's a team effort. I think the Legislature and the executive branch have to team up in order to do this reform. I believe in that. I will say that I'm the first governor to pay the proper pension amount every year I've been governor. That didn't happen before I arrived, and that's one of the reasons our state was in such a hole. Previous governors failed to pay the previous amount. Previous legislators didn't appropriate the proper amount, and I'm here to straighten that out. And so, I think the people will judge accordingly."

PRESIDENT-OAK-041113-19_37828271.JPGIncoming Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, pictured here on the left during election night last month at his restaurant, could keep his ownership in Maya Del Sol after the House voted Thursday to relax a ban on public officials having liquor licenses. | J.Geil ~ For Sun-Times Media

SPRINGFIELD-Incoming Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb can keep his restaurant while serving as the town's leader after the Illinois House voted Thursday to relax a state law banning mayors from holding a liquor license.

The House passed the legislation 65-50, with one voting "present." The measure, sponsored by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), now moves to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.

Under her legislation, the ban on public officials holding an liquor license would be lifted in towns of 55,000 or less. Currently, the ownership ban applies to towns of 50,000 or less.

Oak Park had an estimated population of 52,104 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Abu-Taleb, who is scheduled to be sworn into office on May 6, owns Maya Del Sol, a popular Oak Park restaurant. He won election last month with more than 58 percent of the vote.

"I think it's important for us to respect the wishes of the people of Oak Park," Currie said.

Penny Pritzker's 2001 letter to Superior Bank

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President Barack Obama tapped Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker to be the next commerce secretary today. The nomination did not come without controversy.

Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet writes:

"As soon as Obama made the Pritzker announcement, the Republican National Committee went after her for her role in the 2001 failure of the family-controlled Superior Bank, a Hinsdale savings and loan, with an email headlined, "The New addition to Obama's economic team is another political ally with a history of controversial business practices." Pritzker was the former chairwoman of the bank."

In a 2008 article on Penny Pritzker's involvement with Superior Bank, former Sun-Times political reporter Abdon Pallasch revealed:

"Obama's campaign notes that Pritzker stepped down as chairwoman of the bank's board in 1994, seven years before it failed. She then went on the board of the bank's holding company.

But a letter obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times shows that until the end, Pritzker appeared to be taking a leadership role in trying to revive the bank with an expanded push into subprime loans.

Pritzker wrote in May 2001 that her family was recapitalizing the bank, and she pledged to "once again restore Superior's leadership position in subprime lending." The bank shut down in July 2001."

Here is the letter:

Penny Pritzker's 2001 letter to Superior Bank

GUNS_CONCEALED_CARRY_38610451.JPGState Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), pictured here during a Senate debate last month, pushed legislation through the Senate Wednesday that would give certain pet-buyers greater consumer protections. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-If the state protects consumers who unknowingly buy "lemon" cars, why shouldn't the same safeguards exist when putting down big money on Fido, Murph or Fluffy at a pet store?

State lawmakers took a serious look at that question Wednesday.

By a 31-18 vote, with six members voting present, the Illinois Senate passed what has become known at the Capitol as the "puppy lemon law" to beef up safeguards for pet-buying consumers.

The measure would permit consumers to obtain a full refund for the animals they purchase or reimbursement for veterinary costs if they buy a pet with an undisclosed malady from a pet store.

"This is a way of making sure we protect consumers who purchase unhealthy animals, cats or dogs, and make sure they can get either reimbursed for their costs they have, exchange the pet or get the costs back for the veterinary treatment," said Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), the bill's lead Senate sponsor.

His plan, which doesn't apply to pets purchased from breeders or animal shelters, is backed by the Humane Society and other animal-rights advocates but opposed by pet shops and several kennel clubs throughout the state.

Illinois now requires pet stores to provide information about a pet's health history but gives consumers no remedy if they unknowingly buy an ill animal. Nor is there any way in which someone can be reimbursed for veterinary bills if the pet they bought was ill when it was bought.

Opponents argued that Kotowski's bill didn't cover the majority of pet purchases, which come from breeders or animal shelters. By one estimate made during floor debate Wednesday, as few as 15 percent of pet purchases occur at pet shops.

"It's a little like we'll have a speed limit on 30 percent of the state's highways and the rest of the time you can go as high as you want," said Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston). "The average cost of a dog in a pet store was about $1,000. We'll protect the consumers who have the money to pay $1,000 for a dog as a pet. What about all those consumers who can't afford that?"

Kotowski's bill, patterned after existing pet "lemon" laws in 17 other states, now moves to the House.

It's one thing for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to talk about using the jackpot of revenues from a Chicago casino to "modernize" Chicago's aging public schools. It's quite another to show state lawmakers what those new schools would look like.

Aldermen have it both ways in protecting renters

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Chicago aldermen had it both ways Wednesday: They passed an ordinance protecting and compensating renters displaced by foreclosures, but held it in committee for further changes.

With reporting by Natasha Korecki

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois Senate Wednesday passed a gambling expansion package to bring a casino to Chicago and appease ethics questions raised by Gov. Pat Quinn and his top gambling regulator.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), passed the Senate 32-20, with one member voting present. It now moves to the House.

"We've put a lot of stringent requirements in this bill to make sure the honesty and safety of gaming in this state is far beyond any state in the United States. We made sure integrity is in this bill," Link said.

While signaling some encouragement for the bill, Quinn's office stopped short of an outright endorsement of the plan, saying more "improvements" are likely necessary though not specifying them. He has vetoed two earlier gambling-expansion packages dating back to 2011.

"We're reviewing the bill, it appears to be moving in the right direction," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

The measure would strengthen the Illinois Gaming Board's oversight of a Chicago casino, ban campaign contributions from gambling interests and establish a new post of executive inspector general for gambling.

Link's latest version also strips out a controversial plan to allow the state lottery to offer casino-style wagering online.

Additionally, like two earlier expansion projects, Link's bill authorizes casinos in the city, the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville. It would permit slot machines at racetracks and give Chicago the option of allotting some of the 4,000 machines for a city casino to O'Hare and Midway Airports.

Link said his plan would eventually generate $268.9 million annually for the state, including $128.7 million annually for public schools in Illinois.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel described Link's legislation as "vital" and urged state lawmakers to pass the plan.

"I have said repeatedly that if Chicago were to build a casino, all revenue would be directed toward modernizing schools in our neighborhoods and communities," Emanuel said in a statement. "I encourage all parties in Springfield to take swift action on the gaming bill and, in so doing, create the opportunity for us to rebuild and renew our public education infrastructure in the city."


In this Jan. 2, 2013 file photo, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks to lawmakers during a committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Years of hostility between state regulators and lawmakers who want to expand gambling in Illinois boiled over during a legislative hearing last week, with the two sides trading insults and accusations like kids in a schoolyard. But once the dust had settled, it appeared the fracas may have served its intended purpose: ending a stalemate between the two sides and addressing some of the criticisms that have helped defeat two previous gambling proposals. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File) ORG XMIT: CX303
Seth Perlman


Legislation that includes a new Chicago casino is expected to emerge from committee this afternoon and hit the Senate floor.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has already said it's likely to pass.

Cullerton press secretary Ron Holmes said a recent amendment added to Senate Bill 1739 is expected to bring $1.2 billion in one-time revenues.

At a news conference today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was pushing the legislation, again pledging that 100 percent of revenues from a Chicago casino would go to pay for Chicago schools.

Meanwhile, ethics provisions that Gov. Quinn pushed after his veto of a previous casino plan are included in this version of the bill -- including banning campaign contributions from contractors.

There appears to be some initial support from the governor's office this time around. But Quinn's office made clear on Wednesday that more "improvements" were likely needed as work continues on the legislation.

"We're reviewing the bill. It appears to be moving in the right direction," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.

Here's what's in the bill, according to Cullerton's office:

1. Chicago Casino

a. 4,000 positions: land- or water-based or at airports

b. Run by a licensed operator subject to management contract

2. Ethics

a. New Executive Inspector General for Gaming

b. IGB oversight of Chicago commensurate with all other IL gaming facilities

c. Political contribution ban for gaming licensees

3. Slots at race tracks

a. 1,200 positions in Cook County/ 900 for non-Cook

b. Racinos must be licensed by Gaming Board

4. 4 new riverboats/casinos

a. Rockford

b. Danville

c. S. Suburbs: either Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich, Thornton or Worth Township

d. Lake County: either Park City, Waukegan or North Chicago

5. Tax rate reduction

a. Separate tax rate for slots vs. table games

b. New tax rates take effect in the fiscal year following the opening of the Chicago casino, but not before July 1, 2015

6. Distribution of Revenues

a. Upfront license fees to fund increased headcount at IGB ($50M), remainder to old bills

b. Local shares to host communities

c. Annual distributions of gaming tax revenue as follows:

i. Approx $13M to Depressed Communities Economic Development Fund (5% of revenue from new boats)

ii. Approx $6.5M to Latino Community Economic Development Fund (2.5% of revenue from new boats)

iii. $5M to the State Fairgrounds Capital Improvement Fund

iv. $5M to DHS for compulsive gambling treatment

v. $6.25M to fund grants for soil/water conservation districts

vi. $3M to fund grants for county & state fairs

vii. $2.5M to fund grants for cooperative extensions

viii. $125,000 to Quarter Horse Fund for purses

ix. $75,000 for botanic garden maintenance

d. Remaining tax revenue to Education Assistance Fund

7. Minority Participation

a. Contracting goals for all licensees

b. Hiring goals for all licensees

c. Reporting requirements for all licensees

***Updated with Mayor's news conference remarks ***

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel today renewed his push for a Chicago-based casino, again promising to dedicate 100 percent of revenues to a struggling Chicago Public School system and showing lawmakers this video (above) to prove his point.

"I want them not to just hear it, I want legislators from all over the state to see what that can be, to see its potential," Emanuel said at a news availability today. Emanuel said the money would be used to build "21st Century schools" with new computer labs and more advanced facilities. "I'm driven by the fact ... that the Chicago casinos will be the only Casino in the state that will be totally dedicated to our children."

In a recent interview, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said a measure including a Chicago casino as well as "racinos" -- slot machines in race tracks -- was still in the works.
"It will definitely pass the Senate," Cullerton said. "We hope the governor will sign it."

Gov. Quinn vetoed a gaming bill passed out of both houses last year saying he wanted tougher regulation on casino interests.

CLOSER_LOOK_ILLINOIS_HOUSE_PIECEMEAL_VOTES_38630363.JPGIllinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), pictured here from earlier this month, pushed his pension reform plan through committee Wednesday against the qualms of state union leaders.


SPRINGFIELD-In a rare step into the public spotlight Wednesday, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan advanced his new pension package to reign in annual pension increases for retired state workers and teachers over the misgivings of state union leaders.

Madigan's measure, which he said will see a vote on the House floor Thursday, moved out of the House Personnel and Pensions Committee on a bi-partisan 9-1 vote. After the hearing, the speaker unflappably predicted the bill's passage in both the House and the Senate.

"This amendment would offer comprehensive reform to the Illinois pension systems," Madigan testified before committee members. "It would bring solvency and stability to the four [pension] systems."

The proposal has the support of House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), and it gained more traction Wednesday when he signed on as one of the bill's co-sponsors along with House pension experts Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville).

"We need to do benefit reform," Cross told reporters after the hearing. "If we want to have a pension system down the road that doesn't create crowding out, we need to do it this way. And I think this does it."

But union leaders repeatedly contended that Illinois' pension crisis is a result of the state not making its contributions to the system and that Madigan's plan attempts to fix the system on the backs of public sector workers.

"We are here today because of a problem created when the state put its payments to the pension fund on a credit card," AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer. "It's a good thing you're not kicking the can down the road, but it's a bad thing that you're kicking our members in the butt."

Madigan's plan resembles and makes changes to an earlier bill crafted by Cross and Nekritz. The new language would change retirees' annual retirement increases by giving them the lesser of either 3 percent of their annual annuity or a total equal to their numbers of years of service, multiplied by $1,000.

The plan would also reduce the salary that pensions can be calculated from to $109,000, which is down from the $113,700 proposed in the earlier measure. Originally a key point in the speaker's blueprint, Madigan omitted a provision to make suburban and downstate school districts start covering the state's tab for the pensions of retired teachers and school administrators.

"This is a gut-punch to the state's teachers, university workers, firemen, nurses, all our public employees, and it's unnecessary," said Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery, who spoke against the bill in committee.

"The union coalition for a long time has been saying there is a way to find reform that is collaboratively found, that can meet a constitutional test and that solves the state's problems. We don't want a two-year legal battle anymore than they do, and they should seek to work with us to prevent that."

Even if the unions don't follow through with a legal challenge, the speaker's plan to save the state from its $97 billion pension mess will most certainly head to the Illinois Supreme Court where the measure's fate remains uncertain. However, Madigan confidently predicted the high court would back his proposal.

"I think that there will be at least four members of the Illinois Supreme Court that will approve the bill," he told reporters. "It's just my judgment."

But before the courts can rule on Madigan's pension formula, the bill has to clear two major hurdles: the House and the Senate.

Madigan told reporters he has spoken with Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) "on numerous occasions" and thinks his bill will pass in Cullerton's chamber, but Madigan said he was unsure of when the Senate might take a vote.

"You should address that question to [Cullerton], but it was with his consent and direction that I put the amendment on [Cullerton's bill]," he said.

While the pension overhaul's prospects are still uncertain in the Senate, Thursday's roll call in the House appears to be on track to reach the necessary 60 votes.

"My sense is and my belief is that this thing will get out of the House when it's called for a vote. I have absolutely no idea what the Senate's going to do," Cross said.

"I think it puts a lot of pressure on the Senate and creates some momentum where you've got a bi-partisan effort coming out of the House for the Senate to act on it or in some form of a very meaningful bill."

If the bill does make it out of the Legislature with no major changes, Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign it into law.

"Illinois' economy will not fully recover until the General Assembly passes this comprehensive pension reform and sends the bill to my desk," Quinn said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "The taxpayers of Illinois are waiting. Let's get the job done."

Meanwhile, late-session thrusts like this one had Cross jokingly recall a time at the end of last year's legislative session when Madigan pushed through a pension bill "and turned it over to [Cross] at the last minute." But this time, Cross believes the speaker's efforts are bona fide.

"I hope it's not a game, and I don't think it is," Cross said. "I just got the sense in the room today that this is real. It's just a gut. I don't like to predict anything in this building, but I think this is real in the House. But again, I think the million-dollar question is what happens over in the Senate."

ayotte_may1.jpgIt's been over four-and-a-half months since the horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT and yet our federal government has yet to enact any changes to existing gun laws in an effort to curtail the possibility of future similar massacres. Just two weeks ago, President Barack Obama displayed as much anger as he has ever shown when addressing the U.S. Senate's failure to reach the necessary number of votes to move forward on amendments to a proposed gun bill that would have instituted a new background check plan. Throughout his push, Pres. Obama has been accompanied by relatives of Newtown victims and now they're taking their argument directly to the Senators who voted against the bill.

At a town hall meeting in Warren, New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has sent found herself unwanted attention after her key vote helped doom the bill, found herself face-to-face with Erica Lafferty, daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung who was killed during the massacre. Asked Lafferty, "You had mentioned that day the burden on owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't more important than that." Sen. Ayotte defended her vote, angering Lafferty who stormed out of the meeting.

Watch video of the exchange below.

Photo: Sen. Ayotte (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Earlier this week, Mayor Emanuel announced tweaks to the city's horrendous parking meter lease that Daley left him with, claiming the changes will make things better (by giving some neighborhoods free Sundays) but may have actually made things a little worse (giving the leasing company an extra hour every other day of the week). And Emanuel's claim that he has saved the city $1 billion after settling a dispute with CPM over money owed by the city isn't as shiny as it appears; as Beachwood Reporter's Steve Rhodes explains: "Wow. That's like me getting $10 knocked off my phone bill this month and bragging that I've just saved $120 this year and $8,520 over the next 71 years because I was likely to have that same dispute with every forthcoming bill."

So with this wonky math still being worked out by aldermen and pundits alike, the City Council is skeptical they'll have enough time to review the tweaks, saying that the initial 30 days after the new deal is proposed at the May 8th meeting likely won't be enough. Ald. Brendan Reilly told WBEZ, "Thirty days? We'll see if that's enough time." This is the kind of response voters would hope to hear: a cautious review of a major change to a bad deal that will screw over residents either way but give local lawmakers time to make sure they can minimize the damage.

Too bad aldermen didn't act this way several years ago when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley shoved it down the Council's throat and most aldermen were only too happy to let him, voting 40-5* to approve the lease three days after Daley proposed it.

On Monday, Ald. Fioretti told our Fran Spielman of Mayor Emanuel's tweaks, "This is just more window dressing to let a bad deal continue ... and make everybody feel good for the day." And Fioretti told WBEZ that Mayor Emanuel's refusal to answer reporter questions after announcing his new deal left him uneasy: "This is supposed to be an open, transparent government that serves the people of the City of Chicago, and I don't see it from this kind of transaction."

But in December 2008, according to the Tribune's report of the meeting in which aldermen approved the deal, Fioretti apparently didn't have much of a problem with Daley's short turn-around time, saying, "I think it is a good ordinance that is going to help us in the next five years, when we are going to have a most difficult time. It is going to lessen the blow and be good for our people and good for the City of Chicago."

That, of course, still doesn't come close to the now-legendary verbal clustermess that Ald. Dick Mell uttered during the proceedings, now etched in stone somewhere on the side of City Hall as the Council's unofficial motto: "How many of us read the stuff we do get, OK? I try to. I try to. I try to. But being realistic, being realistic, it's like getting your insurance policy. It's small print, OK?" According to the Trib's report, Mell also called the original deal "a once-in-a-lifetime shot to grab this pool of money."

Yes, a pool of money that has since evaporated, with reports indicating there was little more than $125 million left of the original $1.15 billion deal by 2011. And Mayor Emanuel himself said on Monday all of that money has "been spent."

So as the City Council prepares to ask for more than a month to review these tweaks, it's unclear whether it's to cover their tracks after their colossal mistake in 2008 or if they really do intend to go over the deal with a fine-tooth comb in an attempt to put a shine on a big stinker. Either way, it doesn't really matter as they already doomed the city to this deal when they didn't care enough the first time around.

* - The five aldermen who voted against the deal were: Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Billy Ocasio (26th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Rey Colon (35th)

Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois said the addition of two new judges -- should the U.S. Senate confirm -- will help fill a void in a courthouse that's been there since last year when the courthouse was down three federal judges.

"This is wonderful that these two people have been nominated," Chief U.S. District Judge James Holderman said of Andrea Wood and Sara Lee Ellis -- both of whom President Obama announced he tapped for appointment. Should they be seated, one judicial vacancy will remain in the U.S. District Courthouse that has seen the high-profile criminal trials of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and others.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Holderman, who will cap his seven-year stint at the helm of the courthouse, hinted he may move on when his term is up July 1 this year.

"I will have done 7 years as the chief judge as the northern district of Illinois and I'm looking forward to new challenges after I complete my term," Holderman said. When asked if that meant he would move on outside the courthouse, he said: "I haven't decided yet."

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo is in line to take the chief judge position when Holderman's term is up.
Holderman had once feared furloughs would be necessary in the federal courthouse -- with a possible plan to close once a week -- as the sequester budget issues continue in Washington.

This week, Holderman said no furloughs were planned at least under his management.
However, the U.S. Probation Department plans to begin furloughs soon, he said.

"No, we have worked efficiently - there will be no furloughs during the period that I am Chief Judge. I made that commitment to the staff. Ruben Castillo and I have worked diligently so there are no furloughs during this fiscal year," he said.

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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