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Christopher Kays, For The Southern 

Nashville's Sabrina Kollbaum drives to the basket against Pinckneyville's Emily Ruppert during the Hornettes' 42-28 victory over the Panthers in the IHSA Class 2A Regional Championship hosted by Sesser-Valier High School on Thursday.

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SIU Carbondale expected to have chancellor by April; nursing program applications sky high

CARBONDALE — The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees hope to hire a new permanent chancellor for the Carbondale campus at its April meeting, said Board Chair Phil Gilbert.

A 23-member search advisory committee including SIU Carbondale students, faculty, alumni and staff have selected semifinalists from the list of applicants, who will be interviewed in the next few weeks, Gilbert said.

After another round of culling, the finalists will be invited to visit the Carbondale campus in late March or early April, Gilbert said.

Incoming SIU President Dan Mahony will take office March 1, in time to weigh in on the process and help make the final selection, Gilbert indicated.

The chosen candidate will replace Interim Chancellor John Dunn, who took over in December 2018, after the untimely death of Chancellor Carlo Montemagno.

Meanwhile, SIUC’s new nursing program is among the top beneficiaries of a major bump in applications at the Carbondale campus, Dunn announced at Thursday’s board of trustees meeting in Edwardsville.

Recruiting for its inaugural freshman cohort, the program has received more than 500 applications for just 50 spaces, Dunn said.

“That’s both good news and also news of concern,” Dunn said. “It may lead to a little bit of distortion in our application numbers overall.”

As of December, the university had received 27.3% more freshman applications than at the same point the year prior, with admissions up 21.3%.

While only 50 applicants will gain admission to nursing at SIUC, the university hopes to route other qualified applicants into pre-nursing courses or other “critically needed health-related fields,” Dunn said, from audiology to speech and language pathology to social work.

Eventually, Dunn added, the program’s cohort sizes will increase.

“But our goal is to be high quality and to get it right out of the chute," he said, "and we’re doing that."

The SIUC academic reorganization has made significant progress since Jan. 1, administrators told the board Thursday.

About two-thirds of all SIUC students are now housed under an academic “school”: a consolidated unit that replaces traditional academic departments. Course offerings remain the same, and no faculty will be laid off in the process, university leaders have said.

The 15 schools now approved on campus coexist with departments that have not yet been reorganized.

Dunn acknowledged that much of the toughest work, including negotiating with disciplines that oppose the changes, is yet to come.

He and Provost Meera Komarraju expressed confidence that more new schools will be formed this semester, but could not say when the process will be finished, nor how many schools will ultimately comprise the university.

“Last week alone we probably spent, in the evenings, about 10 hours over three nights meeting with groups to talk about [reorganizing their programs],” Dunn said. “We’re trying to ... listen to people, to work with them, to think in terms of new directions that maybe we didn’t think about right away and it’s been very good, very productive.”

In the face of criticism from speakers from the Edwardsville campus Thursday, university leaders (including the chancellors of both SIUC and SIUE) reaffirmed their approach to funding the two universities.

Since about 1975, state funds have been allotted on a roughly 64%-36% split between Carbondale and Edwardsville— about $91.4 million and $53.8 million respectively in Fiscal Year 2018.

But calls to invest a greater share in SIUE have intensified as the university equalled, then eclipsed SIUC in enrollment for the first time ever, over the last two school years.

In December, the board approved a statistical methodology to tally the universities’ relative costs, based on Illinois Board of Higher Education data.

That assessment will be reviewed by incoming President Mahony and refined under his guidance, Gilbert indicated.

Eventually, it will be used to recalculate a fair distribution of state money between SIUE and SIUC.

Asked on Thursday, university leaders could not say when the recalculation would occur.

“We want to get the president on board and give him the opportunity to take a look,” said Board Vice Chair Ed Hightower.

A 50-50 split between SIUC and SIUE of all new state funding, approved in the fall, will last three years, providing an initial increase to SIUE as the funding formula is finalized.

The slow action prompted one commenter, SIUE Professor and Faculty Association President Mark Poepsel, to accuse the board of stagnating SIUE’s growth by “subsidizing the status quo in Carbondale.”

However, the chancellors of both campuses and state lawmakers support the board’s slow and deliberate approach, trustees said.

“We’ve met with our legislators to ensure that they were supportive of where we were going, and they are supportive,” Hightower said. “The governor and his representatives are supportive of where we are. We are committed to a pathway of fairness for the system.”

Valentine’s Day
Puppy Love: SIT Service Dogs surprise Southern Illinois community with Valentine’s Day animal grams

Kristen Dietz, a commercial loan offer at SIU Credit Union in Carbondale, knows her husband Tyler is particularly good with surprises but “never in a million years thought” a squealing piglet would come through the doors of her office to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Coworkers gathered in Dietz’s office as Daniel Bradley, SIT Service Dogs client services manager, donned in a Kermit the Frog mask, held “Piggy Smalls.”

This is the second year SIT Service Dogs, an Ava-based business which specializes in breeding and training service dogs, have fundraised through their “piggy-grams” and “puppy-grams.”

Brian Munoz, For The Southern 

Daniel Bradley, SIT Service Dogs client services manager, and 'Piggy Smalls' get off of the SIT Service Dogs school bus for a piggy-gram delivery on Thursday outside of Allied Physicians and Rehab in Carbondale.

Money raised from the fundraiser will go reducing the costs of service dogs for patients, Bradley said. He said costs to raise and train a single dog can be upwards of $30,000 and part of the business’ goal is to make service dogs accessible to those who need them.

Military veterans are a commonly talked about group who benefit from having a service-animal companion and conversation has gained traction up to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The House passed HR 4305, or the “Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act,” earlier this month.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, sets up a pilot program which allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to assess the effectiveness of using service dogs for the treatment of PTSD and mental health issues for veterans with disabilities.

Brian Munoz, For The Southern 

Keesha Lo, of Herrin, cuddles up to 'Piggy Smalls,' after receiving a piggy-gram from her husband, William, to celebrate Valentine's Day on Thursday at Tonic HeadQuarters Hair Salon in Carbondale.

Bradley said he hopes to see similar legislation passed for individuals with other disabilities who would greatly benefit from a service dog in their lives.

Lex Dietz, SIT Service Dogs program director, shared similar sentiments to Bradley.

“There isn’t as much awareness on how much a service dog can change people’s lives who have neurological conditions such as autism and brain injuries,” Dietz said. “Funding can be a bit harder on that end of things.”

SIT Service Dogs will deliver over 50 animal-grams across Southern Illinois over the Valentine’s Day week, according to Dietz.

Dietz said this fundraiser is a highlight each year and is fun for both the trainers and the recipients while helping the dog’s formal training efforts through public exposure.

“There are a lot of animal lovers out there and they just glow when their delivery shows up,” Dietz said.

Brian Munoz, For The Southern 

Kelly Snyder, of De Soto, reacts as a piggy-gram is delivered to her Thursday at Allied Physicians and Rehab in Carbondale. Snyder said receiving the piggy-gram was one of the best moments of her life.

Dietz and Bradley are self-proclaimed region-transplants but the southern Illinois community has been “the best place for a service dog program.” Dietz said she’s amazed by the support behind the program for the last decade.

Community events and fundraisers are a highlight for Dietz but she said her favorite thing about the program comes on the dog’s graduation day after two years of training.

“There’s this moment — every student and staff has seen it — where people have been working with their dogs over the week and there’s a click,” Dietz said. “It is a fantastic second where the dog realizes this is the person I’m doing this for and the person realizes this dog is going to make my life totally different.”

“That’s as close to magic as I’ve ever seen,” she said.

SIT Service Dogs deliver piggy and puppy 'grams' for Valentine's Day

PHOTOS: SIT Service Dogs deliver piggy and puppy 'grams' for Valentine's Day

Senate asserts war powers

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a bipartisan measure Thursday aimed at limiting President Donald Trump's authority to launch military operations against Iran, with eight Republicans joining Democrats in a post-impeachment bid to constrain the White House.

The rebuke was the Senate's first major vote since acquitting Trump on impeachment charges last week. Trump is expected to veto the war powers resolution if it reaches his desk, warning that if his "hands were tied, Iran would have a field day.'"

The measure, authored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., says Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Kaine and other supporters said the resolution, which passed 55-45, was not about Trump or even the presidency, but instead was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

While Trump and other presidents "must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the executive power to initiate war stops there,'' Kaine said. "An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote.''

The Senate vote continues a pattern in which Republican senators have shown a willingness to challenge Trump on foreign policy, a sharp departure from their strong support during impeachment and on domestic matters. Congress moved to impose restrictions on U.S. involvement with the Saudi-led war in Yemen last year after U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a gruesome murder at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Turkey.

The bipartisan vote was a rare exertion of authority from Congress, the first since passage of the War Powers Act of 1973. And Trump promptly vetoed it.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a separate, nonbinding war powers resolution on Iran last month. The House could take up the Senate resolution later this month, House leaders said. Two-thirds votes in the House and GOP-run Senate would be needed to override an expected Trump veto of the war powers resolution.

Answering a claim by some of Trump's supporters and Trump himself that the measure would send a signal of weakness to Iran and other potential adversaries, Kaine said the opposite was true.

"When we stand up for the rule of law ... and say 'This decision is fundamental, and we have rules that we are going to follow so we can make a good decision,' that's a message of strength,'' Kaine said. "If we're to order our young men and women ... to risk their lives in war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people's elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.''

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, agreed. Lee supports Trump's foreign policy, including toward Iran, but said Congress cannot escape its constitutional responsibility to act on matters of war and peace.

As the Senate debate made clear, "there is abundant support for the United States taking tough positions with regard to Iran,'' Lee said. "And as part of that we want to make sure that any military action that needs to be authorized is in fact properly authorized by Congress. That doesn't show weakness. That shows strength.'''

Trump disputed that, arguing on Twitter that a vote against Kaine's proposal was important to national security and pointed to the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani.

"We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani,'' Trump said. "If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal.''

Tehran responded to the U.S. attack on Soleimani by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. The attack caused traumatic brain injuries in at least 64 U.S. soldiers, the Pentagon said..

Democrats and Republicans alike criticized a briefing by the Trump administration shortly after the drone strike, saying U.S. officials offered vague information about a possible attack being planned by Iran but no substantial details.

Kaine has long pushed for action reasserting congressional power to declare war. At Republicans' request, he removed initial language that targeted Trump in favor of a generalized statement declaring that Congress has the sole power to declare war. The resolution also directs Trump to terminate use of military force against Iran or any part of its government without approval from Congress.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor, called the resolution "much needed and long overdue.'' In recent decades, "Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibility on authorizing the sustained use of military force,'' she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and many other Republicans opposed the resolution, saying it would send the wrong message to U.S. allies. "Just as we have successfully sent Iran this strong signal of our strength and resolve (by killing that country's top general), a blunt and clumsy war powers resolution would tie our own hands," McConnell said.

Besides Collins and Lee, Republicans joining Democrats were Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Todd Young of Indiana.

Redistricting reform gets bipartisan push from Illinois lawmakers

SPRINGFIELD — A bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers and advocacy groups announced an effort in both chambers Thursday to overhaul the way Illinois’ legislative districts are drawn.

Legislators from Chicago, its suburbs and downstate are backing a state constitutional amendment — twin measures in the Senate and House — shifting district mapmaking power from politicians to a 17-person commission whose members would be representative of state demographics.

In three news events across Illinois on Thursday, backers of the plan said the measure they call the “Fair Maps Amendment,” more than any of the other redistricting reform proposals, is “comprehensive,” “equitable, transparent, representative, and provides meaningful participation.”

The amendment is backed by the same group that attempted to reform the redistricting process in the past three elections, CHANGE Illinois — the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics.

“As a sprawling federal corruption investigation continues, we should start to end corruption by ending gerrymandering where it begins when maps are drawn,” Madeleine Doubek, the group’s executive director, said. “Politicians picking their voters clearly is the epitome of a conflict of interest.”

Hawthorn Woods Republican Sen. Dan McConchie, who spoke at a news conference in Chicago, said “this is the place we need to start” to “root out corruption” in Illinois.

The current process favors the General Assembly’s majority party, said Sen. Melinda Bush, a majority party Grayslake Democrat and lead sponsor in her chamber.

Currently, the Legislature is responsible for drawing Illinois’ legislative and congressional maps, with a party holding both chambers – like the Democrats currently do – having outsized control. Maps are drawn after the U.S. Census every decade, and the Illinois Constitution requires districts to be “compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population.”

If lawmakers do not agree on maps, a group is formed with four legislators from each party and a ninth that is chosen randomly by the secretary of state from two candidates put forward by the state Supreme Court. That backup scenario is unlikely with the current makeup of the Legislature, however, as Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers.

Under the coalition’s proposal, 17 commission members would be appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court — seven registered Democrats, seven registered Republicans and three with different or no party affiliation. Each congressional district can have only one commissioner.

Members of the public would be able to comment on any commission proposal, and could submit their own district maps. The commission would have to look at all submissions.

Doubek said this proposal is a revised version of an amendment submitted by CHANGE Illinois over the past two years, and “does a lot to improve equity, transparency and accountability.”

The current amendment includes prisoners in population counts and redefines the requirements about who can serve on the commission.

People ineligible for the commission include: lobbyists; persons appointed, running for or elected to a position with the state, federal, or local government; a paid consultant or campaign representative of a political candidate or political action committee; an individual with an ownership interest in an entity with a state, local or federal contract; and appointed or elected officials of a political party.

Persons must not have held those positions in the past five years, and people working for them and their immediate families are ineligible as well.

The resolutions also attempt to ensure minority communities are able to elect a candidate of their choosing.

“If there is a neighborhood or community that has a strong minority base but maybe not enough to control the outcome of the election,” Doubek said, “they need to be kept together so they can have as much influence as possible on choosing who represents them.”

Both chambers of the Legislature need to approve a constitutional amendment by a three-fifths majority before it can go to voters. That effectively sets the deadline as Sunday, May 3, because six months must pass before an amendment can appear on the general election ballot.

“Our chances are better than they have ever been,” Doubek said.

A poll last year by Southern Illinois University found 67 percent of Illinoisans want district maps created by an independent commission rather than the Legislature.

A spokesperson for Senate President Don Harmon, a Democrat, said, "The Senate president has a history of working for redistricting reform and looks forward to reviewing this proposal."

Doubek said Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn, who is the House sponsor of the amendment, had “a healthy exchange of ideas” with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

And when Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker was running for office, he pledged to veto any “unfair” map sent to him by the General Assembly.

Republican Rep. Ryan Spain, from Peoria, said he has supported former versions of CHANGE Illinois’ redistricting amendments in the past two years.

“With everything that’s happening in the General Assembly — with federal investigators swirling around us, with confidence in our government at an all-time low and corruption at an all-time high — a Fair Maps initiative is an essential ingredient to fixing those issues,” he said.

The Fair Maps Amendment shares many similarities with California’s 14-member citizen commission that drew the state’s current maps after the 2010 census.

Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 to create an independent commission of 13 citizens to draw political maps. Iowa has a similar citizen-run commission, while Missouri’s system consists of a commission from each legislative chamber made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans.

“While Illinois is behind on this topic, we are not operating in isolation and I think it’s important to look at other states,” Spain said. “It would be really disappointing with everything else that’s going on in Illinois if we can’t do the same.”

A 2014 analysis by the Washington Post named Illinois’ 4th congressional district, consisting of western Chicago suburbs such as Cicero and Brookfield, among the 10 most gerrymandered in the country. The district, which elected Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García in 2018 by a 73-point margin, resembles a pair of earmuffs. The two sides of the district are connected by a narrow patch of grass under Interstate 290.

The proposals are House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 41 and, when it is officially introduced Tuesday, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18.