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News Around Illinois: Sept. 18, 2020

The latest news around the state for the week of Sept. 14, 2020.

TOP STORY — Friday, September 18

Parties Dispute How Far Feds Will Let Madigan Probe Go

The U.S. attorney investigating House Speaker Mike Madigan OK’d a separate probe by a House committee, but Democrats and Republicans do not agree on how far it should go, Associated Press’s John O’Connor reports

John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, told committee leaders by letter that he doesn’t object to its investigation of Madigan’s role in a decade-long bribery scandal outlined in July in a deferred prosecution agreement with utility company ComEd.

Lausch said the committee would not interfere with the federal investigation as long as it doesn’t attempt to link testimony or documents directly to federal prosecutors’ activity.

But the chairman, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat, said he believes Lausch draws the line at seeking any information that is not already made public in the deferred prosecution agreement. He said he would reject any questions or requests for information that exceeded that boundary.

SNAPSHOTS — Friday, September 18

More than 50 Chicago-area restaurants closed due to COVID-19. According to the Associated Press, The Chicago Tribune found the figure as part of a snapshot that looked at the city’s food and dining scene, six months after the start of the pandemic. Restaurant owners have said they are getting worried as the winter months approach, if the situation does not change.
Ex-Illinois state worker pleads not guilty in slain boy case. According to the Associated Press, one of two former Illinois child welfare workers who investigated abuse allegations involving a 5-year-old boy whose beaten body was found in a shallow grave last year pleaded not guilty Thursday to child endangerment and reckless conduct charges. Andrew Polovin, 48, of Island Lake, entered his plea during a brief hearing in a McHenry County courtroom, a week after he former co-worker Carlos Acosta were arrested. Acosta, 54, is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 24. Both men are out of custody after each posted $20,000 bonds. Polovin was Acosta’s supervisor at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in the months before Andrew “AJ” Freund’s body was found dead near his family’s Crystal Lake home in April 2019, days after his parents reported him missing. The boy’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, has since pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and his father, Andrew Freund Sr., is awaiting trial.

Two Springfield city council members propose police reforms. The council members propose a bigger role for the police oversight commission and the spelling out the use-of-force rules, among other changes, reports WUIS’s Mary Hansen. Ward 2 Alderman Shawn Gregory and Ward 3 Alderman Doris Turner introduced the ordinance. It features 9 proposals. It’s scheduled to be debated September 29, and can be voted on by October 6.

TOP STORY — Thursday, September 17

Pritzker Nixes Fall Youth Sports, Urges COVID-19 Sacrifice

Gov. JB Pritzker held a press conference Wednesday, saying the focus during the COVID-19 pandemic should be protecting communities and not about families deciding if their sons and daughters should be playing sports, Associated Press’John O’Connor reports. 

“This deadly virus should remind us that there are some individual choices that have enormous life-changing impacts on others,” Pritzker said. “While parents might choose to send their children out onto the playing field, I can tell you that someone else becomes ill because of that decision wouldn’t call that ‘your personal choice.’”

The announcement follows protests that occurred throughout the state that called for kids to be able to play fall sports again. The Illinois Department of Public Health requested an adjusted high school sports schedule from the Illinois High School Association, which they delivered in late July. But now, the IHSA Executive Director asked Pritzker if they can control their own fall sports schedule again. 

SNAPSHOTS — Thursday, September 17

Illinois student arrested in dorm shooting, classes resuming. A Western Illinois University student suspected of shooting and wounding his roommate in their dorm room, prompting the school to cancel classes, turned himself into police on Wednesday afternoon, school officials said. Associated Press’s Don Babwin reports the shooting occurred in a room at Thompson Hall on the Macomb campus at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, stemming from what officials said was a dispute between the two roommates. In a news release, the university said that 18-year-old Kavion Poplous turned himself in at a Chicago Police Department station and was then taken into custody by the FBI. Hours earlier, the school announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Poplous on charges of first-degree attempted murder, aggravated battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm. With the arrest of Poplous, the school said that classes will resume on Thursday. But the school said that the residence halls would remain locked through the weekend to protect students’ privacy. The wounded roommate, who has not been identified by the school, was taken to McDonough District Hospital in Macomb before he was transferred to another hospital. The student underwent surgery, but the school has declined to comment on his condition. 

Gov. JB Pritzker Urges $4 Million In Federal Aid Be Directed Toward Local Election Authorities. Gov. JB Pritzker is pushing the state Board of Elections to use federal aid to help local election authorities prepare for this year’s unusual election, WBEZ’s Tony Arnold reports. He says the board should use $4 million from money from the Help America Vote Act to help recruit poll workers and install drop boxes for those who do not want to drop their ballot in the mail. Over 1.5 million Illinoisans have requested a vote-by-mail ballot.

Former Illinois State Senator Pleads Guilty To Tax Evasion. A former Illinois state senator from the northern suburbs pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion Wednesday, WBEZ’s Tony Arnold reports. Former state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, appeared remotely for his court hearing Wednesday, alongside his attorney. In describing Link’s crimes, prosecutors shared that the longtime Democratic lawmaker was spending money on personal expenses from an account controlled by his campaign committee. He pleaded guilty to underreporting his income on his 2016 tax returns by at least $93,859. Link’s name also surfaced in the federal bribery case against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, who was accused last fall of offering to bribe an unidentified state senator $2,500 to help advance legislation legalizing sweepstakes gambling in Illinois. Arroyo pleaded not guilty. WBEZ has confirmed that senator was Link, though the senator adamantly denied he was a government mole.

ISU To Begin Requiring Students Get Tested For COVID-19 ‘Very Soon’. Illinois State University will soon require students to be tested regularly for COVID-19, a shift in strategy that epidemiologists say is key to catching the coronavirus early, university officials said Wednesday. WGLT’s Ryan Denham reports that currently, students with or without symptoms have the option to be tested on campus, but it’s not required (with the exception of a few select groups, like those doing clinical experiences for their major). That will change “very soon,” although the details on who and how many will be regularly tested are not yet finalized, said ISU’s testing coordinator John Baur, a chemistry professor. Students living on-campus will be among those required, he said. This change will happen even before ISU opens its own saliva-based testing lab, which is still 8 to 10 weeks away, Baur said. ISU saw a spike in COVID-19 cases among its students at the start of the fall semester. Over 1,300 students tested positive. The number of new positive tests has tapered off in the last five days—down to the single digits—but so has the number of students being tested.

TOP STORY — Wednesday, September 16

Shooting At WIU

Police are searching for a Western Illinois University student accused of shooting in a residence hall Tuesday night, WIUM’s Rich Egger reports

The suspect, 18-year-old Kavion Poplous remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous. He is a freshman at the university. 

According to WIU spokesperson Darcie Shinberger, the shooting occurred in a dorm room in Thompson Hall. Residents were evacuated and sent to Western Hall, which is known to host large events, such as basketball games.

All classes were canceled for Wednesday, including both online and in-person classes. 

SNAPSHOTS — Wednesday, September 16

Illinois AG: Former ITT students to get $9.4M in debt reliefStudents who were enrolled at now-closed ITT Technical Institute campuses in Illinois are eligible for $9.4 million in student loan debt relief, the state’s attorney general announced Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, Illinois’ share of a $330 million national settlement follows investigations by several attorneys general over student loans offered by the for-profit school. The 47 attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached the settlement with PEAKS Trust, which ran a private loan program for ITT Tech. According to the agreement, PEAKS acknowledged coercing and pressuring students into taking out higher interest loans, has agreed to forgive outstanding loans and end operations. ITT Tech filed for bankruptcy and closed its campuses in 2016, including in Orland Park, Arlington Heights, Oak Brook and Springfield. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said students don’t have to do anything to receive the relief.

Chicago warns against Wisconsin travel, cites COVID-19 spike. Chicago officials cautioned city residents Tuesday about travel to Wisconsin, citing a recent COVID-19 spike in Illinois’ neighbor to the north, says the Associated Press. The Chicago Department of Public Health stopped short of adding Wisconsin to a travel advisory list. There are 16 states on the list, including Utah, which was announced Tuesday. City officials said Sith some exceptions, Chicago residents who travel to the states must quarantine for two weeks upon return. Visitors from those states are expected to quarantine while in Chicago.
SEIU Local 73 Strike Ongoing. Members of SEIU Local 73 who work at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are on their second day of strike. SEIU Local 73 is calling for the University of Illinois to QUOTE “respect us, protect us and pay us.” The University of Illinois College of Medicine also has campuses in Chicago, Rockford and Peoria. Dian Palmer is the President of SEIU Local 73 and she says the university failed to meaningfully respond to issues including safe working conditions, adequate staffing, and pay increase, reports WNIJ’s Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

TOP STORY — Tuesday, September 15

Department of Children And Family Services Faces A Housing Crisis

The pandemic has tested the capacity of Illinois’ child welfare system. More than 21,000 foster children were in state custody as of June 30, much higher than February projections that estimated a 20% rise in foster children entering the child welfare system by the end of the 2021 fiscal year next summer, WUIS’s Hannah Meisel reports. However, the pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing problems in the child welfare system. 

By the numbers: Former Gov. Bruce Rauner severely cut programs from Illinois’ human services sector. DCFS found between 2015 and 2019: 

  • Illinois’ shelter bed capacity was cut by 71%, from 159 beds to 46.
  • Illinois lost nearly 500 residential beds and 2,300 foster homes.

Antwan Turpeau, chief operating officer for Chicago-based child welfare agency One Hope United, says the child welfare system has long faced systemic problems perpetuated by high staff turnover and budget cuts. 

“All of those agencies who were providing real true, intimate community resources folded, then certain behavior health programs weren’t there. If kids were discharged and ordered to receive intense family therapy, it didn’t exist, or didn’t exist in a convenient way for families who have means to travel to get that service.”

Illinois child welfare officials have also had to change their operations to monitor children at risk of abuse and neglect. They told a panel of state lawmakers Monday that the pandemic has made their jobs difficult but not impossible. 

SNAPSHOTS — Tuesday, September 15

Feds OK witnesses for legislative panel probing Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Witnesses can now be called by the special legislative committee investigating whether Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan engaged in any wrongdoing with Commonwealth Edison, federal prosecutors found Monday. There is a deal on the table between ComEd and the federal government, according to WBEZ’s Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold, that would delay prosecution for three years. U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who is heading the criminal investigation into ComEd’s Springfield lobbying, told committee members not to not stray into “materials or testimony” that is “still confidential” or “in the possession of the federal government.” 

  • “In other words, we can call witnesses, but we can’t really ask them any questions,” Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside said. 
  • State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, and two House Republican candidates signed a “No Madigan Pledge,” vowing not to vote Mike Madigan for Speaker of the House in the 102nd General Assembly.

Black Western Illinois University students say they matter. At a recent rally, Black students at Western Illinois University said they deserve better treatment from the administration and from the city of Macomb, WCBU’s Rich Egger reports. The demonstration had previously been planned in response to the murder of George Floyd, but after a former student posted racist comments and the city held a Blue Lives Matter rally, the student organizers changed their approach. Earlier this month, student athletes at the University of Illinois and Illinois State University led Black Lives Matter marches through their campuses. 

Schools find a way to deal with a COVID-19 digital divide. State Superintendent Carmen Ayala says the state board has allocated $80 million toward purchasing computers and connectivity hot spots to assist with online learning. WUIS’s Maureen Foertsch McKinney says 42% of schools have both remote and in-person learning and a third are remote only. Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Southern, Western and the University of Illinois are some of the universities and colleges who have opened up their internet access for students and their families. Chicago Public Schools officials are distributing 100,000 laptops to bridge the digital divide in the city

Bloomington Council OKs city’s first pot shop. The Bloomington City Council approved the city’s first marijuana dispensary on Monday, WGLT’s Michele Steinbacher writes. In May, the company Jushi opened up a dispensary in Normal, and now hopes to open its second location in Bloomington by December. Under current rules, the state issues no more than two such permits for the McLean County region.

  • Marijuana tax revenue in the state is soaring. The Illinois Department of Revenue said Illinois collected $19.2 million in cannabis taxes last month, up 38% from July.
  • In East Peoria, entrepreneur Roy Source’s plan for a recreational cannabis start-up was also approved yesterday by the Zoning Board of Appeals. City code allows for up to three dispensaries. NuMed is currently the only dispensary in the area.

TOP STORY — Monday, September 14

Pandemic Brings More Domestic Violence, Serious Cases To Bloomington-Normal

Domestic violence cases filed in McLean County court more than tripled from March to July compared to this time last year, , WGLT’s Ryan Denham reports. Prosecutor Mary Kroll, who handles felony domestic violence in the state attorney’s office, says she is swamped with serious cases.

“My caseload is really stacked with very serious cases right now, in a way that it hasn’t been since I came to McLean County several years ago.” 

She says she has seen cases with severe injuries, like broken bones, lacerations and brain injuries, which could be indicative of future lethal violence. 

By the numbers: Across the state, calls and texts to Illinois’ domestic violence hotline have surged.

  • Between March 21 and May 29, calls to Illinois’ domestic violence hotline were up 17% compared to last year during the same period. Between the time the order ended and July 27, calls were up 32% from the previous year.
  • Text message grew by almost 2,000% during the stay-at-home order. Since then, there’s been a more than 3,000% increase over the same time last year.

Back in March, advocates warned that domestic violence survivors would be especially at risk during the stay-at-home order since most wait until their partner leave for work before making a call or sending a text to the hotline. 

SNAPSHOTS — Monday, September 14

Illinois community can keep its iconic cold war missile. Rantoul can keep its Minuteman missile, Mayor Chuck Smith announced three days before the planned dismantling of the Cold War relic. Originally, the Air Force had said the village would not maintain the missile, but U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, and an aide intervened, according to the Associated Press. After the missile is renovated, it will then be transferred to the National Museum of the Air Force and loaned to the village. The Rantoul rocket was installed at the west entrance of the former Chanute Air Force Base back in 1966. It had remained in place after the Air Force closed the base in 1993. ? Check out this aerial photo of Chanute Field via the Champaign County Historical Archives!

Boys And Girls Club Of Southern Illinois makes accommodations for remote learningThe Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois have changed their operations to the meet the needs of children during the pandemic, WSIU’s Benjy Jeffords reports. Students’ temperatures are checked upon arrival and at lunch time. Students sit in pods by grade level to give it more of a school feeling, Tina Carpenter, the director, says.

Risking COVID-19 exposure again is the only option for these temp workers. The Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, an advocacy group for temps, surveyed 130 people who work in food processing, manufacturing, warehousing and logistics. The report, “‘We do not have the luxury of working from home,” found half of workers felt “unsafe or very unsafe” working during the pandemic, according to WBEZ’s María Inés Zamudio. The report also found that companies weren’t disclosing when others got the virus. 

Some Chicago schools are struggling with remote attendance. Chicago schools reported roughly 84% citywide attendance for the first day of remote classes, but some schools had fewer than half of students log in, the Associated Press said. The first day attendance numbers were 10 percentage points lower compared with last year’s first day with traditional classes. Attendance increased citywide over the first three days. School officials say they’re still trying to close the digital divide by distributing 100,000 laptops.

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