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Drew Valentine motions to his team during a game. The former Oakland player took over for Porter Moser at Loyola. He comes from big success. His dad, Carlton, led Lansing (Mich.) Sexton High School to three straight state final appearances and two titles, and his brother, Denzel, is a guard for the Chicago Bulls. 

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City officials, design firms for Carbondale transit hub seek public input
  • Updated

CARBONDALE — City officials are seeking design input for the long-awaited Southern Illinois Multi Modal Station, or SIMMS, in the downtown area. 

A public meeting is set from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29, in Room 112 of the Civic Center, 200 S. Illinois Ave.

At the meeting, members of the public will have opportunities to engage with consultants and offer feedback regarding the final design of the SIMMS hub, which will be built in the current Amtrak station location. 

The station will ultimately be a central location for three regional transit services: Rides Mass Transit, South Central Transit and Shawnee Mass Transit, which cover about 30 counties in Southern Illinois. The station also will serve Amtrak, Greyhound, Saluki Express and Jackson County Mass Transit. The station is part of IDOT’s goal to establish a statewide transit system.

Mark Bollmann, project manager for the construction and design of SIMMS, told The Southern recently that the city remains in the "early stages" of design. Just two months ago, the city hired two Carbondale firms — Design Works and hmb Architects LLC — to design the transport hub. 

Bollmann said the public's input and engagement is critical at this stage, particularly if residents have questions, concerns and suggestions for traffic flow. 

"We're very confined on our space availability, it's a narrow corridor, it's very tight," Bollman said. 

Amtrak users, Carbondale residents and the general public can also weigh in on aesthetics, layout and the overall look and design. 

This public hearing is specifically designed for public feedback — and any additional public hearings will be likely be informative in nature with a presentation on a final design, Bollmann added. 

City officials said earlier this year that a preliminary design is expected to be available for review by the Carbondale City Council in late 2021. 

The project budget is about $17.3 million, mostly funded by federal and state dollars. In November 2019, the city was awarded a $13.9 million dollar grant for the design and construction of this project through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, program. And, in December 2020, the IDOT Transit Improvement Program contributed an additional $2.8 million dollars towards the project. 

The new transportation center will be constructed in downtown Carbondale on the east side of South Illinois Avenue. City leaders expect construction to begin in fall 2022. 

Bollman said the plan is to have the SIMMS hub substantially completed by April of 2024, when thousands are expected to flock to Carbondale and SIU to watch the solar eclipse — and a good amount of visitors may take public transportation. 

"We'd love to have that open in time," Bollmann said.  

Planning for the Southern Illinois Multi Modal Station project, also called SIMMS, began in 2013, as part of the city’s long-range vision. The city began working with IDOT to plan for the project in 2015.

Illinois Soybean Association
Soybean leader keeps his feet on the ground and in the air
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As chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association, Doug Schroeder is on the road anywhere from two to three months a year. Exactly how many depends on how much time he wants to put into the position.

“Pre-COVID, I would say the chairman is gone 60 to 90 days,” he said. “Part of it is how much you want to raise your hand.”

Schroeder has been raising his hand for many years. The Champaign County corn and soybean farmer has been on the ISA board since 2013.

“Some (directors) are very energetic and want to do things,” he said. “Quite frankly, I look at whether I really need to be there. Is there someone else? I have a life.”

Indeed, Schroeder serves as a district director and member of ISA’s marketing committee in addition to his top job. Otherwise, he keeps busy with his farm near Mahomet and with his wife, Stacy, and three children. He is active with the Cunningham Children’s Home, the United Methodist Church, the Mahomet Area Youth Club, the Lions Club and McLean County Farm Bureau.

As head of the organization representing the nation’s largest soybean-growing state, Schroeder represents the interests of 43,000 farmers. Those include everything from politics to research. But the main focus is on international markets.

“Sixty percent of grain in Illinois goes for export, so it’s important for us to talk to buyers,” he said. “It’s face-to-face, personal interaction. We look at what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. It’s boots on the ground. What’s the next China? Is it India? There are going to be more people in India than China soon.”

One player in the global market getting increasing attention is Egypt.

“We’re always looking for countries with growing GDP and growing populations. Those are the two things,” Schroeder said. “Because of the growing GDP they’re going to be improving their diet, so hopefully they’ll be eating more meat and less grain. Meat is like a seven-to-one advantage moving soybeans through an animal. It’s a huge benefit for real consumption.”

Another place the board has its eyes on is Cuba. Schroeder would like to see the communist nation opened up more to U.S. ag commodities. He has visited the island country and came away with real concerns.

“We’re only 90 miles away from Cuba. But the government has banned extended credit to Cuban companies to import grain,” he said. “American government mandates that they have to pay cash. But Cuba can get credit from other countries, so where are they going to go, even though we’re the closest and most reliable? I get the other side, but government has a major influence on the outcome of producers.

“They grow a lot of rice in Louisiana, yet Cuba imports almost all their rice from Vietnam. How much sense does that make?”

As a member of the marketing committee, Schroeder puts in the miles. That includes meeting with politicians as well as customers.

“We’re on the road all the time, to Springfield, Washington and other places,” he said. “We do fact-finding trips. If it’s worthy, we’ll do it. It’s just a matter of what is relevant to the farmers we represent.”

Politics plays a major role in the ag industry, which over the past few decades has been affected by domestic as well as international policies.

“The government blinks and we have a crisis on the farm,” Schroeder said. “That’s the way it’s always been.”

The latest blinking involves the push toward renewable energy. Schroeder is concerned about the effect on products such as biodiesel because demand would conceivably shrink as more energy is generated from sources such as solar and wind power.

“All this climate change, carbon sequestration, net zero emissions and the other buzzwords, we’re in it up to our necks,” he said. “Some people are looking to farmers to sequester carbon in the soil. They expect us to clean up what industry is doing. It’s all to be played out. That’s the intangible thing these commodity organizations do for people we represent.”

Besides serving as chairman of ISA, Schroeder also heads up the state’s checkoff program. The two organizations are comprised of the same staff but are by law separate, as the checkoff board is prohibited from engaging in political activities.

“We do it all at once. We track time and hours just like an attorney would book,” he said. “There are so many hours of checkoff work today and so many hours of non-checkoff. It’s an accounting headache. But we’ve had clean audits for as long as I’ve been on the board.”

Schroeder is proud of the work ISA does, though he acknowledges the challenges.

“We try really hard to get it right,” he said. “We’re trying to turn over a lot of rocks. There is stuff that doesn’t make sense today but may have legs in the future.”

Opioid lawsuits on verge of settlements
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The yearslong effort by state and local governments in the U.S. to force the pharmaceutical industry to help pay to fix a nationwide opioid addiction and overdose crisis took a major step forward Tuesday when lawyers for local governments announced they were on the verge of a $26 billion settlement with the nation's three biggest drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson would not produce any opioids for at least a decade. And AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson share prescribing information under a new system intended to stop the avalanches of pills that arrived in some regions about a decade ago.

Lawyers for local governments said full details could be shared within days. That would not be the end of the deal though; each state would have 30 days to decide whether to join. And local governments will have five months after that to decide. If governments don't opt in, the settlement total would go down.

“This is a nationwide crisis and it could have been and should have been addressed perhaps by other branches of government,” Paul Geller, one of the lead lawyers representing local governments across the U.S., said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But this really is an example of the use of litigation for fixing a national problem.”

If approved, the settlement will likely be the biggest of many settlements to opioid litigation. While it means billions for lawyers who worked the cases, it is expected to bring more than $23 billion to abatement and mitigation efforts to help get treatment for people who are addicted along with other programs to address the crisis. The money would come in 18 annual payments, with the biggest amounts in the next several years.

The deal echoes one the companies have been pushing, sometimes in public, for two years.

Johnson & Johnson reiterated in a statement that it’s prepared to contribute up to $5 billion to the national settlement.

“There continues to be progress toward finalizing this agreement and we remain committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for families and communities in need,” the company said. “The settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing, and the Company will continue to defend against any litigation that the final agreement does not resolve.”

But Cardinal Health declined to comment early Tuesday, and the other distribution companies did not respond to requests for comment.

An Associated Press tally finds there have been at least $40 billion in completed or proposed settlements, penalties and fines between governments and the toll of opioids since 2007, not including one between the federal government and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma in which most of the $8.3 billion would be waived. Purdue is trying to reach a deal through bankruptcy court that could be worth $10 billion over time; a hearing on that plan is scheduled for August.

Other deals are possible. While a growing number of companies in the industry have struck deals, some manufacturers have not — and no pharmacy companies have struck nationwide settlements.

But the total amount in the settlements is far below estimates of the financial costs of the epidemic. The Society of Actuaries found that the cost of the crisis in the U.S. was $630 billion from 2015 through 2018, with most of the costs borne by the private sector. And the White House Council of Economic Advisers, when considering the economic impact of people who fatally overdosed, put the one-year cost at about $500 billion nationally.

Unlike with the tobacco settlements reached in the 1990s, governments have agreed to spend money they bring in from opioid-related settlements to deal with the opioid crisis.

In a joint statement, the attorneys general for Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee said the settlement talks with the four companies are “potentially nearing their completion,” and that, “we look forward to bringing much-needed dollars home to our states to help people recover from opioid addiction and to fundamentally change the opioid manufacturing and distributing industries so this never happens again.”

But they still have choices ahead on exactly how they do it.

“Is it a nice chunk of change?" asked Ryan Hampton, who is in recovery from an opioid addiction and is a Las Vegas-based advocate for policy to address the overdose crisis. “Sure it is. Will it go to where it needs to go? The jury’s still out on that.”

Even before the settlement plan was unveiled Tuesday, a group of public health advocates and experts began calling for any settlement money to be spent to address the opioid crisis.

“It’s money that can do a lot of good if it’s used well," said Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is spearheading the effort. “It’s really important to use it well to save lives because it’s coming at the peak of the overdose epidemic.”

Democratic leaders seek to dismiss redistricting lawsuits
  • Updated

SPRINGFIELD — Lawyers for Illinois’ Democratic legislative leaders last week filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Republicans and a Mexican American advocacy group regarding newly drawn legislative maps, calling the challenge “purely speculative” until full U.S. Census data is released.

The motion, filed Friday, was an expected move following a Wednesday, July 14, status hearing for two consolidated lawsuits filed by Republican legislative leaders Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, and Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, as well as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.

Both suits name the Illinois State Board of Elections and its individual members as well as Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon as defendants.

The lawsuits focus on whether American Community Survey data, rather than full census data, is a permissible source for drawing legislative district lines.

Every 10 years after the census, the Illinois General Assembly has the first crack at redrawing the lines of Illinois’ 59 Senate and 118 House districts, and they face a June 30 deadline set by the Illinois Constitution after which the process is handed to an eight-person commission made up of four members from each party.

If that group fails to approve maps by Aug. 10, a ninth member, who could come from either party, would be randomly chosen and added to the commission to give one party a single-vote advantage.

This year, the supermajority Democrats in the General Assembly passed new redistricting maps by the end of the regular session in May and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed them into law on June 4.

But full census data wasn’t available at the time and still won’t be released until Aug. 16, so lawmakers used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and other private sources to draw the maps.

MALDEF and the Republican leaders argued in their court documents that the use of American Community Survey data represents an incomplete count and therefore violates the “one person, one vote” principle under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Republican leaders have asked the court to either force Welch and Harmon to appoint a bipartisan commission to oversee redistricting, or appoint a special party to draw the maps themselves. At last week’s status hearing, lawyers for the Democratic leaders argued that would be an extreme remedy in which federal judges are intervening in matters of state law.

MALDEF requested a judge block the new maps from taking effect in any future elections.

But lawyers for the Democratic leaders – which include Michael Kasper, a longtime Democratic redistricting operative and ally to former House Speaker Michael Madigan – argued in the dismissal motion “there is no way to measure the validity of Plaintiffs’ equal protection allegations until the Census Bureau issues the 2020 census data.”

The lawyers for the Democratic leaders focused on the state constitution in other aspects of their motion to dismiss as well, arguing, “Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or Illinois’ Constitution or statutes mandates only the use of final census numbers in redistricting.”

“Plaintiffs do not suggest that the General Assembly should have used a different data set – plaintiffs only suggest that the General Assembly, led by defendants Welch and Harmon, should have done nothing and simply ignored the directives of the state constitution,” the lawyers wrote. “The federal constitution does not require such inaction on the part of state officials.”

Welch and Harmon’s lawyers also argued that the claims against them lack standing because the plaintiffs make no specific claims that the districts in which they reside are negatively impacted by the use of ACS data.

“They have not alleged—nor can they allege—that their personal voting strength is diluted by the current redistricting plan,” they wrote in the court document. “They have not alleged, for example, that their votes are diluted by overpopulation in their districts when compared to the voting power of those residing in less populated districts.”

The state elections board, which is represented by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office, also filed a motion to dismiss the suit Friday, claiming immunity in the case via the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and echoing claims that the plaintiffs have not demonstrated injury in the case.

The case is before a three-judge federal panel, which has a tentative trial date set for Sept. 27-29.

But there is also another status hearing scheduled for Aug. 24 – or just over a week after full census numbers will be made available. In an order scheduling that hearing, the court acknowledged that planned expert testimony is likely to “be affected (perhaps substantially) by information that will not be available until the census numbers come out.”

At the virtual August hearing, the parties are scheduled to discuss “the effect, if any, of the release of the census data on the complexity of the case and the presentation of evidence, either on a paper record or a trial,” as well as the logistics of the trial and dates for additional status hearings.