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News Around Illinois – Aug. 25, 2020

The latest news around the state, for Aug. 25, 2020.

IDOT Accused by Former Employees Of Racial Discrimination

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A group of current and former employees of the Illinois Department of Transportation are accusing the agency of a history of systemic racism, particularly in its operations in southern Illinois. Lee Coleman, a former Transportation Department Equal Employment Opportunity officer, told the Belleville News-Democrat that years of documenting, reporting and complaining about racial issues in the agency has not resulted in any action. The 15-year department veteran says the political party of the incumbent governor or legislative majority has made no difference. The Department of Transportation has a $23.4 billion budget for 2020 and has allocated $2.3 billion for District 8’s five-year plan for highway improvements, Coleman said. The district is the second largest in the state, encompassing 12 southern Illinois counties. Coleman and others are demanding workplace equity and a policy that helps end racism on the state’s highway projects. – Associated Press

Illinois, Missouri Get Award for Mississippi River Bridge

PITTSFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois and Missouri’s partnership that replaced the 92-year-old Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River has earned the two states a regional transportation award for the second year in a row. Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said the regional transportation award for Midwest states comes from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The bridge connecting the two states along U.S. 54 took top honors in the “Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium Project” category. Illinois and Missouri shared the cost of the $60 million bridge, which links Louisiana, Missouri and Pike County in Illinois, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis. The project doubled the width of the original bridge and eliminated a 40-ton weight restriction while adding lanes for bikes and pedestrians. – Associated Press

Illinois Tourism Had Another Record Year, Before Pandemic

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois set another record for tourism before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down normal life around the world, state officials said. The Illinois Office of Tourism Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced Friday that the state welcomed 120 million visitors in 2019. That was the ninth consecutive year that Illinois saw tourism growth. Officials noted that COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has devastated the tourism industry and has shuttered schools, businesses and required people to stay at home for periods. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that tourists spent $43.1 billion in Illinois last year. That was a 3% increase over the prior year. – Associated Press

Former Gov. Edgar And Other Moderate Illinois Republicans Say They’ll Vote For Joe Biden

Former Illinois Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and a pair of other prominent GOP moderates here broke ranks with President Donald Trump Monday and said they’d be voting for Democrat Joe Biden, just as Republicans opened their national convention. The pronouncements by Edgar, former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and ex-Illinois Republican Party chair Pat Brady set a divisive tone for state Republicans and put on display the serious schism within the Party over whether Trump deserves another four years in the White House. – Dave McKinney, WBEZ

ACLU Wants Independent Monitor of Care For Transgender Prisoners In Illinois

A group of transgender women has asked for an independent monitor of the Illinois Department of Corrections because the agency has not improved those inmates’ care as ordered by a judge last year. Some of the women,  who are housed at  prisons throughout the system, have harmed themselves or attempted suicide, said  Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois. “In many instances, you have the circumstance where the women who are being held in male facilities are subjected regularly to strip searches… by male guards, which is humiliating and degrading and leads to serious kind of consequences,” he said. According to a document filed by the ACLU in federal court Friday, IDOC has continued the  “practice of depriving gender dysphoric prisoners of medically necessary social transition, including. . . assigning housing based on genitalia and/or physical size or appearance.” An IDOC spokesperson said the agency would not comment on pending litigation. According to Yohnka, the Department of Corrections’ representatives admitted  under oath that practices, such as strip searches by male guards, continue. – Maureen Foertsch McKinney, WUIS

Agreement Reached For Fall Classes At WIU

Western Illinois University’s administration and the University Professionals of Illinois, which represents faculty, have agreed on a plan for holding classes during the fall semester. The two sides reached the deal after meeting all day on both Friday and Saturday. The union said the agreement gives faculty members and academic support professionals the choice of how they want to hold their classes and work with students. It also provides for additional safety measures against the potential spread of COVID-19. You can read details of the agreement here. – Rich Egger, WIUM

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