Legislature looks away as governor buys votes

In Illinois, the way things are supposed to be done in state government and the way they're actually done are two different things.

Take the way that state funds are supposed to be budgeted. The Illinois Constitution says: "The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State." But that's not the way it works.

Champaign should take survey on value of police in the schools

Any longtime teacher will tell you that the public school environment has changed greatly in the last 25 years and, sad though it may be, there is a lot of support among the adult staff and even the students for the notion of having police officers in the schools.

A cursory report on the first four months of Champaign's school resource officer program (which has an officer stationed in both high schools and each of the three middle schools) shows that the police have been fairly busy. There were 245 incidents in the schools during the 18-week period. That covers everything from minor violations of school rules and smoking on school property to arrests for fighting or possession of drugs. In fact, there were 30 arrests in the schools during the four-month period, including 14 for battery, three for drug possession and four for trespassing.

Public finance goes down political drain

American voters long ago opted out of participating in the public funding of presidential campaigns. Last year, less than 10 percent chose to contribute $3 from their federal income taxes to the fund.

Now it appears that the serious presidential candidates finally have joined them. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, a Democrat from New York, announced last week that she'll be raising funds privately for the 2008 presidential primary and general election, and all the serious candidates are following her. Even U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who's led the charge to limit campaign spending, intends to follow Clinton's lead and forgo public financing of his presidential campaign and the limitations it places on private fundraising.

Progress on another cold case from hot civil rights era

The scales of justice, skewed so badly by violent crimes that were ignored by state authorities during the civil rights era in the Deep South, never will be brought fully into balance. But the latest arrest in connection with two unsolved 1964 race murders speaks to a good-faith effort more than 40 years later to achieve justice, albeit late, for the victims.

Federal authorities in Mississippi last week indicted a former police officer and Ku Klux Klan member in connection with the kidnapping and murders of two young men who were beaten and then thrown into a river to drown. The irony is that the bodies of the two victims in this case were accidentally discovered by searchers looking for the three victims of another more celebrated Klan race murder.

UI should meet tribe's request for return of Chief costume

The end is near for the 80-year-old Chief Illiniwek tradition at the University of Illinois. The chairman of the UI board of trustees, Lawrence Eppley, said earlier this month that the board's "consensus process" will be completed this year in order to "bring to a conclusion the matter of Chief Illiniwek."

That, in combination with NCAA sanctions against the UI for as long as it maintains the tradition, make it clear that, sadly, the effort to save the Chief at least in its current form is a losing battle.

Live free (speech) or don't

A variation of the old saw about free speech – free speech is great as long as you agree with the speaker – is getting a new test in Illinois. This time the medium is the humble Illinois license plate.

A federal judge has ruled that the state must manufacture a "Choose Life" license plate even though the specialty plate, requested by a pro-adoption group, has never been endorsed by the Legislature. Up to now, all 60 existing Illinois specialty plates – ranging from the Amateur Radio Operators to the Vietnam Veterans – have been approved by the General Assembly and the governor before being referred to the secretary of state's office for manufacture. The secretary of state will have the plates produced once there are 800 or more orders placed.

Who's minding the store?

A consulting firm estimates that Chicago area employers could lose about $73 million over the next week or so, and that Indianapolis companies could lose $2.5 million – all related to lost productivity because employees are having their attention diverted by reading, writing, discussing and betting on the upcoming Super Bowl.

If that's the case, what is happening in places with a divided allegiance, places like East Central Illinois, where there are fans of both the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts?

UI board of trustees does not reflect state's diversity

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has named a successful University of Illinois graduate, an African-American renowned in his field, to the UI board of trustees. Ordinarily the appointment of someone as accomplished as James Montgomery would be hailed far and wide.

But it's hard to get enthusiastic when a meeting of the board of trustees starts to resemble a meeting of the Illinois State Bar Association. Of the nine full-time permanent board members, five (Montgomery, board chairman Lawrence Eppley, Devon Bruce, Robert Sperling and David Dorris) are lawyers.

Battle of the MTD's: to bus or not to bus

The only thing for certain when the legal case of the MTD vs. the MTD finally gets to court is that the MTD will win.

But whether that winner is the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (C-U MTD) or the Champaign Southwest Metropolitan Transit District (SWMTD) is of more significance than the average citizen may realize.

Notification finally a part of abortion law in Illinois

More than 11 years after the Legislature passed a law mandating parental notification for underage girls seeking an abortion, it may actually be about to take effect.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan last week asked a federal court to allow the law to be enforced now that rules have been drafted governing how state courts will address requests for an exception to the notification requirement.