Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Old Slave House Funding Update

Jim Muir's story in today's Southern Illinoisan has literally generated interest around the world for the Old Slave House after UPI sent out a story a little over four hours ago. It's already on the websites of the Washington Times, Science Daily and, my favorite so far, Monsters and Critics.com, a site based in Glasgow, Scotland.

[UPDATE: It's now reached India at the WebIndia123.com site.]

The good news for me is that both Jim and UPI mention the name of my book, Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw.

The bad news is that UPI misread Jim's story and has incorrectly labled the house as a station on the Underground Railroad....

[PHONE RINGS. Intrepid blogger picks up phone.]

UPI is sending out a correction. Just got off the phone with them.

[UPDATE: Here's the corrected version.]

Next issue. Is the governor coming down or not?

Last week I was told he wasn't part of the delegation, but Jim had it in the story that he is. However an earlier phone call from a tourism official who was trying to find out about tomorrow's event had been told that he couldn't. The latest news release from the state doesn't mention him and the journalist I talked with doubted he would come back since he toured the region yesterday.

[In Jim's defense, he was working on the story last week for the Saturday or Sunday edition. That may have been the current plan as of last week.]

The most interesting thing about the article was the reference to the site actually reopening.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, announced last week the state will appropriate $150,000 in funding to renovate the facility that was built more than 170 years ago and has been vacant for nearly a decade.

Phelps said the funding will be used for a twofold purpose.

"We have secured the $150,000 to help renovate the Old Slave House and to also help get it up and running," Phelps said.

Later on he hinted when it could reopen.

Phelps said he expects the Old Slave House to be "up and running" by the end of this calendar year.

As I noted last week, I'm still not sure where the money is coming from. I rechecked my notes from December when I called on the status for possible funding. At that time I was told the money is coming from previously-appropriated unspent allocated funds.

Because of the amount involved I thought it was the capital money Phelps had been working on with the governor last spring. This suggests old money that was still in the hopper. Just how old no one can tell me.

Better yet, it's looking like the money is coming from the General Revenue fund which would allow the governor to not only use the funding for capital projects like any renovations, but also for staffing, a necessity if they want to open before the end of the year.

Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Parts 4-7

I'm tired of dragging this out with one idea a day so here are the last four suggestions to plugging the loop-holes in the state's criminal justice system when dealing with DUI offenders and victims.

  • Double Compensation under Crime Victims Assistance Act — $27,000 or $28,000 doesn’t cover much in the way of medical expenses when surgeries are performed. While the legislature has increased the amount covered over the years it has only kept up with general inflation, not medical costs which have increased much faster. Make it retroactive also to any victims of a crime committed in FY2006.

  • Demand Crime Scene Blood Alcohol Testing — BAC testing today is mostly voluntary with incentives offered to drunks for taking the test. If they take the test they don’t automatically get their license suspended. However what’s the incentive for persons with licenses already suspended? At the very least this loophole should be changed so that it is mandatory when the suspect does not possess a valid driver’s license for any reason. Frankly though the state’s implied consent rules should be expanded to include anyone operating a vehicle on a public roadway and all DUI suspects should be tested. Police should have the right to gather evidence at the scene where reasonable evidence suggests an impaired driver.

  • Target the Source — Require law enforcement officers to inquire of DUI suspects where they obtained their alcohol or drugs. Currently this is not on the Illinois State Police forms used by local police departments. While suspects may refuse to answer – this is their right, those that do would be providing authorities with information for future investigations if the same establishments appeared over and over. It would also highlight targets for victims looking for compensation. In my case this wasn’t asked.

  • Develop Suspended Driver Hot Sheets for Local Police — Require the Illinois State Police or the Secretary of State’s Office to compile a list of local drivers with suspended licenses cross-checked against vehicle registrations and license plates. This type of data could help aggressive police agencies to target suspended drivers who keep driving, a segment of the population which according to police are among the most likely to be involved in other criminal matters.

    So what do you think? Tips, comments, constructive criticisms and suggestions wanted.

    Cross posted at Illinoize.
  • Monday, January 23, 2006

    Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 3

    Continuing from my previous posts about needed changes in Illinois' criminal laws (Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 2"), here's the third proposal:

  • Impound Drunk Driver’s Weapon of Choice, Their Cars — If a vehicle is used in the commission of a crime such as a DUI, or is involved in a wreck where a DUI citation is issued, or illegally enters private property (such as being parked in someone’s front yard), the vehicle should be impounded until the DUI case is resolved for the two-fold purpose of public safety by taking a drunk’s vehicle away from him, and securing assets for the court to take in the event that the suspect is unable to pay any fines or court-ordered restitution. If the vehicle title is held by a lender then they would only be able to secure the vehicle if they followed former repossession procedures.

    Quickly now, tell me what's wrong with this proposal? Where are the holes that need to be plugged. Keep in mind that the vehicle used in by the drunk driver with the 11-year-old suspended license in my little incident has been driven since he posted bail and got out of jail. There are multiple vehicles at his house so this isn't the case of the only vehicle in the family.

    Cross-posted at Illinoize.
  • Sunday, January 22, 2006

    Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 2

    Continuing from a previous post about needed changes in Illinois' criminal laws (Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 1"), I propose the following:

  • Stop New Car Titles for Drivers with Suspended Licenses — At the present time, according to police, the state must still issue car titles to individuals who are not legally allowed to drive. I’m sorry, but if you have a suspended or revoked license you should not be able to buy another vehicle in your name until your driver’s license is available again.

    So what do you think?

    Cross posted at Illinoize.
  • Saturday, January 21, 2006

    Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 1

    I'm hoping the headline got your attention. That's what it's there for. You see, two-and-a-half months ago I was hit by a drunk driver — with a shovel.

    Actually, that's the cute way to say it. The looks on people's faces when I say it is priceless. Shock and sympathy quickly transform into something else, usually into a contorted face of someone trying to stifle a smile or outright laughter.

    That doesn't bother me. Getting hit by a drunk driver is something people understand. Getting hit by a drunk driver wielding a shovel isn't.

    Long story short, he got out of the truck, grabbed a shovel from the bed of his pickup and tried to "teach me a lesson" in his words by attempting to decapitate me with a shovel blow to the head. I put my arm up and survived with only a fractured elbow and damage to my ulner nerve which still prevents me from using my left hand completely.

    What I thought would be a few hours in the ER with X-rays and stitches stretched into a five-day stay at the hospital and two surguries. By the the cops talked to me again the second time in the ER that night I was madder at the system than the assailant. You see, if the drunk had been prosecuted and punished properly for his earlier crimes he wouldn't have been on the road that night, or ended up in the front yard where the incident took place.

    Since then I've discovered a number of flaws with our system of justice and I've asked my local lawmaker to consider them for new legislation. Rather than outline them all at once, I'm going to use this forum to discuss them one at a time so the comments can reflect each proposal on its own merits.

    The first proposal deals with the state employees who for some reason must threaten the public safety by operating under a gag order. Law enforcement people I talk to can't believe this is real, but it was explained to me by a state employee.

    Empower Secretary of State Employees — According to workers at the drivers license facilities; they are not allowed to report crimes they see on the job. For example, they could watch someone drive up drunk, stumble inside, reek of alcohol, admit to just drinking a fifth of Scotch, and ask to get their license renewed. Rather than keeping a drunk driver off of the roads they are required to serve him and allow him to drive off. I haven’t found out the reasoning, but it seems that this policy violates the general state law that citizens are legally bound to report crimes.

    I'll published the next proposal tomorrow.

    Cross posted at Illinoize.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    State to Release Old Slave House Funding?

    Got a call today from Springfield. Great news for the Old Slave House.

    It appears that the officials from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Capital Development Board will be in Gallatin County next week for a big announcement.

    The big media shindig is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Old Slave House outside of Equality.

    It looks like the governor's office is finally releasing funds secured through the efforts of state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, in last yeart's budget.

    The amount is $150,000 to be spent on a historic structures report which is where they bring in the architects to study the physical history of the site and look at any structural issues that need to be addressed.

    Obviously there's more to it than that, but that's the best information I have at the present.

    The next step is the one that Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House has been calling for, either secure operating funds for the site, or turn it over to a new regional non-profit group to operate.

    Wednesday's announcement won't reopen the site, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.