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Here we go…

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Tribune

The city of Chicago plans to release the police video of the Laquan McDonald shooting Tuesday afternoon, coinciding with a 4:30 p.m. news conference at Chicago Police Department headquarters, according to sources familiar with the decision.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy will hold the news conference but the video is expected to be released after their remarks.

I’m figuring that WGN will be carrying it live, so click here at the appropriate time.

…Adding… Oy

The Chicago Police Department has ordered most of its force into uniform and warned them of potentially longer hours and canceled days off as the city prepares to release a video of Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

The plan is not unprecedented, and similar plans have been made in the past when the department expects massive protests or potential for civil unrest.

* Follow along with ScribbleLive

- Posted by Rich Miller   58 Comments      

Question of the day

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* From the Libertarian Party of Illinois

The Pillar of Law Institute has filed a lawsuit against the State of Illinois on behalf of Libertarian Candidates Claire Ball and Scott Schluter which, if successful, would allow them to accept contributions from medical marijuana organizations. As Libertarians, they are supporters of medical marijuana and reforming United States drug law.

As the law stands, Ball and Schluter cannot accept contributions from the medical marijuana industry and medical marijuana companies can be fined up to 150% of the value of any contribution that they make to these candidates or any other along with other fines that can amount to thousands of dollars.

Campaign contributions are a vital way for individuals and companies to coalesce around candidates that share their beliefs and help propel them into office. “A liquor company can donate up to $10,800 to a candidate and so could a tobacco company. Only marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers are censored,” said Lead Counsel for the Pillar Institute Benjamin Barr. The case is assigned to an Obama Appointee, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee.

* The Question: Should medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers be allowed to make campaign contributions? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.


- Posted by Rich Miller   46 Comments      

Kirk’s confidence

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Jim Dey interviews Kevin Artl of the Mark Kirk campaign

Artl said he anticipates the turnout in Illinois to be “more similar to 2004,” when Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry was his party’s presidential candidate.

Although he lost the national election, Kerry handily carried Illinois, collecting almost 2.9 million votes against President George W. Bush.

That number, however, pales in comparison to Obama’s numbers four years later.

Obama collected 3.4 million votes in the 2008 presidential race, compared to 2 million for GOP candidate John McCain, boosting other Democrats on the ticket.

It’s hard to imagine any of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley — having that kind of emotional appeal to Illinois voters. […]

When Kerry carried 54 percent of the vote in 2004, then-U.S. Rep. Kirk attracted 64 percent of the vote in Illinois’ evenly balanced 10th congressional district.

When Obama carried 60 percent of the Illinois vote in 2008, Kirk carried nearly 53 percent in his district.

Do you know what else happened in 2004? The Republicans had to import Alan Keyes from Maryland because they had nobody else to run against state Sen. Barack Obama for US Senate.

So, 2004 wasn’t so great for the GOP, either.

And President Obama’s numbers were pretty Kerryish in 2012, when he ran for reelection.

Illinois is a tough nut to crack for Republicans in a presidential year. The last Republican to win a statewide office in a presidential year was… ?

* But, Kirk is very good at this sort of thing, as his congressional campaigns showed. And Morning Consult has a new poll out which shows he’s not doing too badly

* Meanwhile, this story got zero attention

David Applegate, a staff member for Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-Ill.) Senate campaign, was walking around at the Columbus Day parade in Chicago when he was approached by a woman with a clipboard.

She asked him if he wanted to sign a petition. That was odd in itself, since Applegate was wearing a Duckworth campaign shirt, and the woman was wearing a campaign shirt for Sen. Mark Kirk (R), whom Duckworth is trying to unseat. It got weirder when she said the petition was about raising the minimum wage, an issue Kirk doesn’t even support.

Applegate, confused, said he worked for Duckworth, and the woman walked away. He saw her again later, standing with another woman who was also wearing a Kirk shirt and holding a clipboard. He got closer and looked over one of their shoulders. There were “raise the wage” stickers covering the tops of their petitions, but peeking out from underneath them was Mark Kirk’s printed name.

They weren’t collecting signatures for a wage campaign; there isn’t even an active wage campaign in Illinois right now. They were collecting signatures to put Kirk on the ballot for the March primary election.

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      

Unclear on the concept; And pot, meet kettle

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Riopell

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration said Monday it’s preparing to make loans to communities and state vendors after legislation to send communities a long-delayed share of gasoline and gambling tax money stalled. […]

Republicans in recent weeks agreed to a Democratic plan to approve legislation to free up money for local communities, lottery winners and others after Rauner said he’d be OK with the move.

The governor suggested additions to the proposals that Democrats didn’t add, and a lieutenant of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan put a hold on the legislation from state Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, blocking it from moving forward even though the House voted to approve. And the Senate has no plans to reconvene in Springfield to consider it soon if Democrats allowed it to advance.

Moylan called the loan idea “completely ridiculous.”

“We’ll continue to push this bill,” he said.

Um, Marty? You do realize, right, that the Speaker put a brick on your bill? Yes, that very same bill you say you’ll “continue to push”? You already passed the thing.

Also, too

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the Senate has not been given any indication when the House bill might be sent to the Senate for its action. If the bill does get sent to the Senate, she said, the chamber will schedule additional days in order to deal with it. As of now, the Senate is not scheduled to return to Springfield until January.

If there was no brick, the Senate would’ve very likely come back to town next week.

* Meanwhile

In a letter sent to state lawmakers Monday, a Rauner administration official accused House Democrats of holding hostage a bill that would provide funds to local governments.

This from the same administration which slashed child care funding for months in a failed bid to pry loose a Turnaround Agenda deal.

Yet, now they’re all verklempt about local governments and lottery winners.

Such compassion.

* And speaking of the lottery, let’s go back to unclear on the concept

In a move so emblematic of this state’s government it makes my eye twitch, the Illinois Lottery bought newspaper ads to thank its players and apologize for its inability to pay its big prizes until the budget crisis is resolved in Springfield.

On behalf of the newspaper industry, let me say thank you to lottery officials.

On behalf of people who live and work in Illinois, however, let me say I can’t say what I want to say because there may be young children around who should learn this sort of language from their own irate parents.

Deep breath. Exhale.

Spending money to say you’re sorry you don’t have access to your prize money? The optics are not good.

The Illinois Lottery is lucky no one has tried to break its thumbs.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      

*** UPDATED x2 *** The supreme power of video

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Sun-Times

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy will recommend the Chicago Police Board fire Dante Servin, the officer acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of Rekia Boyd, less than a year after Chicago’s top cop said the officer should never have been charged in the 22-year-old’s death.

“After considerable deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that Officer Dante Servin showed incredibly poor judgement in his efforts to intervene in a low-level dispute while off-duty,” McCarthy said in a prepared statement. […]

In April, McCarthy said the charge brought against Servin — involuntary manslaughter — should never have been filed.

“Because of the way that played out, what you didn’t know is the defense and all the intricate details of that particular event. . . . If the details of that case were known, I think it would be a lot clearer” why no charges were warranted, McCarthy said.

* Tribune

Cook County prosecutors say a veteran Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in an on-duty incident on the Southwest Side in October 2014.

Officer Jason Van Dyke turned himself in to authorities Tuesday morning and is scheduled to appear in bond court at noon at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. […]

The charges would come less than a week after a Cook County judge ordered the release of the video, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration had long sought to keep out of public view. As Emanuel urged prosecutors to conclude their investigation Monday, he met with community leaders and aldermen to defend his handling of the controversy amid criticism that City Hall has not done enough to address police misconduct.

Ordered to release the video no later than Wednesday, the mayor called on religious leaders and activists to encourage peaceful demonstrations even as staff prepared for the public fallout and discussed the best way to unveil the video.

* Sun-Times

The charges is believed to be the first time in Chicago history an on-duty police officer is charged with such a crime.

And now you know why some cops allegedly erased private video of the shooting. If that had been made public last year in the aftermath of Ferguson… whew.

* Sen. Kwame Raoul…

When I learned that a video of Laquan McDonald’s final moments was to be released to the public, I knew that many would fear its impact, remembering the self-destruction oppressed communities elsewhere have experienced following acts of police brutality and excessive force.

I believe we can do better in Chicago. But I am not calling for calm. There’s nothing to be calm about. Instead, I’m calling for sustained, focused, constructive outrage that demands full accountability but doesn’t destroy community.

Because of legislation I advanced earlier this year, we now have legal protocols in place that mandate independent investigations of police-involved deaths, expose the misdeeds of rogue cops so they don’t quietly move from one department to another, require improved officer training on bias and the use of force and establish funding and protocols for the use of body cameras.

But I know it’s not enough.

Everyone responsible in this atrocity – not only Officer Van Dyke, but any individual who participated in a cover-up that delayed justice for Laquan McDonald and his family – must be held accountable. We should direct our outrage toward asking our local prosecutor whether it would have taken 13 months to resolve this case if the video had shown a civilian committing the same act. We should ask why Office Van Dyke was still on the beat after 17 public complaints were filed against him and the City paid half a million dollars to settle allegations that he had used excessive force. We should question the ability of Chicago’s independent police review authority, which has recent come under scrutiny from the Better Government Association, to do its job with integrity. And as we call on our neighbors to abandon the no-snitch code, in our outrage we demand the same of law enforcement.

Watch the video. Don’t be destructive. But don’t be calm.

* Meanwhile, Northwestern University law professor Max Schanzenbach has some ideas

Give the police superintendent and the mayor the power to fire any officer for any reason that does not otherwise violate a general employment statute. Problem officers could not escape attention, and city executives could not pass the buck on discipline by pointing to an arbitrator or regulation. Internal human resources departments could monitor and discipline, free from constraining regulations and collective bargaining agreements. […]

A less dramatic reform would be to prohibit local governments from paying for officers’ settlements in civil rights cases. Instead, require officers to buy professional liability insurance, just as we require doctors to carry medical malpractice insurance. Officers with multiple complaints would see their premiums dramatically increase and would be priced out of employment. Liability may also reduce police resistance to cameras and other monitoring devices, which could help protect police officers from frivolous litigation.

Right now, the taxpayers are the insurer, paying for settlements and for lawyers.

More limited reforms would prohibit unions from bargaining over the monitoring of police behavior and would make arbitration subject to judicial review.

Our current system ensures that victims and taxpayers bear all the costs of police misconduct, while the vast majority of hardworking police officers have their reputations stained by the terrible, undisciplined actions of a few.

*** UPDATE 1 *** AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner says Illinois State Police are working with Chicago officials to ensure people remain safe following the release of a video that shows a white police officer shooting a black teen 16 times.

Rauner said Tuesday his office has been briefed on the contents of the video that shows 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s death in 2014. […]

Rauner says the video is “very troubling” and that he expects public reaction to be “strong.” But he says he hopes and believes the response will be “thoughtful and peaceful.”

The Republican declined to say whether he’s deployed additional troopers to Chicago or put the Illinois National Guard on standby.

*** UPDATE 2 *** And yet it took her a year to bring charges

Cook County prosecutors said in court Tuesday that a Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder opened fire six seconds after exiting his squad car as 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was walking away from him.

Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 rounds at McDonald in about 14 seconds and was reloading when another officer told him to hold his fire, prosecutors said during bond court.

Judge Donald Panarese Jr. ordered Van Dyke held without bail until the judge can personally view on Monday a police dash-cam video of the shooting from October 2014.

While the kid was walking away.

- Posted by Rich Miller   72 Comments      

More lip service

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Gov. Rauner was at a Red Cross telethon today. From the twitters…


- Posted by Rich Miller   94 Comments      

A union overreach?

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* I could be wrong (again), but I think we may be seeing the same sort of wildly exuberant union overreach in Chicago that we saw in Wisconsin a while back. You’ll recall that the unions managed to recall some Wisconsin state legislators, then failed to recall the governor.

CTU’s success at winning its 2012 strike has it thumping its collective chest during contract negotiations this year. The union held a big rally in Grant Park last night

Chicago Teachers Union leaders exhorted thousands of members gathered for a rally in Grant Park on Monday to confront the city with the threat of a strike in the face of contract talks that have dragged on for more than a year.

“Now it’s time for us to act. We’ve been here before,” CTU President Karen Lewis, who led a seven-day strike in 2012, told the crowd at Petrillo Music Shell. “No teacher wants to go on strike. We prefer to be in front of our students. But we know that when we must, we will withhold our labor.”

While the union has yet to announce a strike authorization vote, a required step before a walkout can occur, organizers urged members to give them additional leverage.

“We want to remind people in this crowd about sometimes what it takes,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said in his speech to the red-clad crowd. “You will have a chance very soon to answer the question of how much resolve you have. And when you do, the answer will be ‘Yes.’”


In front of a screaming crowd of thousands who braved a frigid night to show their strength, and joined by legislators, pastors and other labor leaders, Lewis said, “It is time for us to act.”

“We must show the city, the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education and even our students and parents that Chicago’s public school educators will stand up for what is just and fair, and together we will fight to protect our professions and our classrooms,” Lewis said.

Despite its phony “practice strike vote” earlier this month, I don’t doubt that the union can convince at least 75 percent of its members to hit the bricks.

* What I’m not so confident of is whether the public will support the teachers like it did in 2012.

Chicagoans are being hit with record property tax hikes, with more likely on the way. The CTU has refused to support a bill sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton that would help alleviate the disaster

“I don’t know the logic of the teachers’ union being opposed to the bill,” Cullerton said. “I think it’s maybe because, you know, the Board of Ed is for it and, therefore they have to be against it. That’s all I can figure, you know? The mayor’s for it, they’re against it because they had a fight with him in the past.”

Remember the 2012 teachers’ strike? That’s the fight Cullerton is referring to. And there’s been talk of a second teachers strike under Emanuel over the district’s current finances.

“Of course this would avoid a strike,” Cullerton said. “There wouldn’t be any need for them to lose their pension pick-up in their contract negotiations. There wouldn’t be any layoffs. I don’t know what else they’re striking about.”

“Three-eighteen is not about stopping a strike. Three-eighteen is about destroying our school system,” said Stacy Davis Gates, the legislative coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union.

* And the union is resisting all give-backs on pay and benefits

Negotiations are stuck because the Board of Education is broke and is asking teachers to pay more for health insurance and pensions. That would mean lower take-home pay.

“$653 million dollars of cuts coming out of the pay, coming out of the pockets of people who make the schools go,” said CTU VP Jesse Sharkey.

Chicagoans may be looking for a bit more equity these days. We’ll know soon enough, but the CTU can easily be painted as obstructionists and the real problem now.

- Posted by Rich Miller   65 Comments      

Duckworth fires back against Zopp for “cheap political” shot

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Illinois Observer

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrea Zopp yesterday zeroed in on an obscure bill moving through Congress as a vehicle to whack her top primary opponent.

ZOPP DINGS DUCKWORTH ON LENDING BILL… Zopp yesterday called on Congress to defeat HR 1737, a bill that she says would make it harder for the Consumer Financial Protection Board to protect American consumers from discriminatory lenders.

“We’ve known for decades that borrowers of color are nearly twice as likely to have higher interest rates than white borrowers with similar credit scores,” Zopp said in a statement. Yet, Congress is attempting to make it worse. HR 1737 undermines the authority of the CFPB to protect minority consumers seeking auto loans.”

Zopp’s real aim was not to rush to defend the federal board, but to undermine her Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), among heavily Democratic minority voters.

“I find it interesting that while Congresswoman Duckworth has not co-sponsored bills that would address racial profiling or amend the Voting Rights Act, she decided to co-sponsor and vote for a bill that would enable big business to racially discriminate. This seems to be another example of her ignoring the needs of communities of color.”


* Maybe not. The Duckworth response…

“Once again Andrea Zopp didn’t do her homework, just like when she rubber-stamped an illegal $21 million no-bid contract that has former Chicago schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett facing jail time. The reality is that 16 members of the Congressional Black Caucus or Congressional Hispanic Caucus also cosponsored this bipartisan bill, and the Congressional Budget Office has stated it will not hurt enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Zopp can keep cherry-picking legislation to try and score cheap political points all she likes, but it won’t change the fact that Tammy has a proven record of fighting for Illinois families and small businesses.” - Matt McGrath, campaign spokesman

H.R. 1737 Was Supported By Members Of Both The Congressional Black Caucus And The Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Sixteen Members Of The Congressional Black Caucus Or The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Cosponsored H.R. 1737. Cosponsors of H.R. 1737 included: Reps. David Scott, Sanford Bishop, Alcee Hasting, Sheila Jackson Lee, Frederica Wilson, Corrine Brown, Marc Veasey, Pete Aguilar, Ruben Hinojosa, Jim Costa, Henry Cuellar, Loretta Sanchez, Albio Sires, Norma Torres, Juan Vargas, and Filemon Vela. [H.R. 1737, 11/3/15]

Congressional Budget Office Said Bill Would Not Hurt Enforcement Of Equal Credit Opportunity Act
Congressional Budget Office Found H.R. 1737 Would Not Prevent Enforcement Of The Equal Credit Opportunity Act. “Based on information from the CFPB, CBO expects the agency would not prepare a replacement bulletin if H.R. 1737 were enacted. Because the bill would not affect the underlying statue or regulations to implement it, the Bureau can continue to enforce the Equal Credit Opportunity Act without the bulletin.” [Congressional Budget Office, H.R. 1737, 10/14/15]

- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      

Republicans side with unions in court case

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* The jaded might say that some legislative Republicans are looking for political cover. But, hey, at least they’re making some sort of stand

Nearly 50 current and former Republican state lawmakers from across the nation recently filed a friend of the court brief, asking the U.S. Supreme Court not to interfere with the role states have in determining whether “fair share” fees have to be paid to unions by non-union members.

It’s a high profile labor case—known as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association—and one closely watched in Illinois, where GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner opposes “fair share” fees, thinks they’re unconstitutional and has filed his own controversial “amicus brief” with justices.[…]

They include GOP Reps. Rep. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro, C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville, Norine Hammond of Macomb, Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon, Bill Mitchell of Forsyth and Sen. Sam McCann of Carlinville. Former Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano, now mayor of Elmwood Park and a strong union ally in the GOP, also signed the brief.

The lawmakers’ brief asks the court to stay away from the role that “states have long played in determining the content of their own labor laws.”

The lawmakers also believe that “nothing in the Constitution prohibits the agency fee (fair share) arrangements at issue in this case and that whether these arrangements are good policy is a decision that belongs to the relevant state and local governments.”

Reps. Bryant and Kay are looking at big Democratic opposition. McCann has his primary to deal with and Mitchell has drawn a Democratic opponent.

Gov. Rauner, of course, is on the other side.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

Rauner pushes Gaming Board to back off fantasy sports site issue

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* Can you imagine the uproar from the Tribune and others if Gov. Pat Quinn had stuck his nose this far into Illinois Gaming Board regulations? Wow

In a move loaded with political implications, Gov. Bruce Rauner is trying to put a brick on efforts to regulate and potentially block fantasy sports sites such as Draft Kings and Fan Duel from accepting bets in the state.

The action appears at least partially linked to poor relations among Rauner, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and her father, Rauner’s arch foe, Mike Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House. But it also comes after the sports sites retained lobbyist Eric Elk, who hired or supervised several senior Rauner aides when they all worked in U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s office.

The Illinois Gaming Board this fall had publicly expressed its intention to seek a legal opinion from Lisa Madigan, the state’s chief legal officer, on whether the sites can legally operate here. AGs in Massachusetts and New York have recently argued that major consumer protections are needed.

But at a meeting two weeks ago, the gaming board abruptly backed away from its request, with its spokesman saying the fantasy sports operations are “currently under review.”

The reason is Rauner. “We suggested to the Gaming Board that they should gather more information and complete a review before seeking an opinion from the AG, just as a matter of good practice,” Rauner Communications Director Lance Trover told me in an email. Rauner appoints the members of the gaming board.

“The administration believes there are laws on the books to deal with this issue,” Trover added. “As to requesting an opinion from the attorney general, that’s up to the IGB once they complete their review.”

I’m sure there’s zero coincidence that Eric signed up as a lobbyist for Draft Kings and Fan Duel earlier this month.

Elk said he had nothing to do with it, but again, this is a highly unusual move by a governor.

…Adding… As pointed out in comments, it probably doesn’t help Rauner’s position that he’s a part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL has been a player in those fan sites.

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      

No known impact of Rauner opposition to refugees

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* The Tribune reports on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s seemingly empty opposition to resettling Syrian refugees in Illinois

States do not have the authority to turn away refugees, whose resettlement to the U.S. is overseen by the federal government. But Rauner was among a wave of mostly Republican governors who declared the program suspended in their states anyway, citing concerns about the government’s ability to adequately screen applicants. Rauner said he would “consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

Left unclear was what exactly Rauner wanted from federal officials, and how his administration planned to suspend the program in Illinois. By the end of last week, even refugee advocates who opposed Rauner’s decision couldn’t point to any services that had been cut off as a result.

A set of email statements on Monday indicates the political fight is still going, even as it’s unclear what will be the practical effect, if any.

Emphasis added for obvious reasons.

Refugee advocates caved in Indiana when that state’s governor demanded that they not resettle refugees, but no such order has so far been issued by Gov. Rauner that we know of.

In a way, that’s a hopeful sign because the governor is apparently all about the politics here. On the other hand, he’s helping to needlessly gin up paranoia and angst about the refugees, so that’s all on him.

Pick a lane, dude.

* From US Sen. Dick Durbin…

The Honorable Bruce Rauner
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Governor Rauner:

I urge you to end your opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Illinois and instead join me in working to close loopholes in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and federal gun laws that truly endanger the safety of Illinoisans.

The conflict in Syria is the epicenter of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than half of Syria’s 23 million people have been forced from their homes, and more than four million are registered as refugees, including approximately two million Syrian children. This tragedy was seared in our memory by the heartbreaking image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean.

The United States has a long tradition of providing safe haven to refugees, and Illinois has played an important role in this proud history. Since the international community’s tragic failure to shelter Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi genocide, the American people have welcomed millions of refugees fleeing war and totalitarian regimes. We should not abandon the good work of generations of Americans who came before us.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson sent you the attached letter responding to your concerns about the security vetting of Syrian refugees. The facts are clear. Refugees are the most carefully vetted of all travelers to the United States, with in-person interviews and extensive biometric, biographic, and intelligence checks involving numerous agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense. No refugees are admitted to the United States until after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime, which can take 18-24 months. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the United States has admitted more than 2,000 Syrian refugees. None have been charged with involvement in terrorism, and only two percent are single men of military age.

Please during this holiday season take the time to meet the Syrian refugees living in Illinois and personally learn their plights. You will learn that the careless and mean-spirited rhetoric from many political leaders does not reflect the reality of their sad lives.

Our shared highest priority is the safety of the people of Illinois, but let’s be clear about where the greatest terrorism threat lies: not with children and families fleeing ISIS, but in glaring loopholes in the law that could allow what happened in Paris to happen somewhere in America. One significant concern is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows about 20 million foreign nationals, more than one-third of all foreign visitors, to travel to the United States before checking biometrics like fingerprints. Chicago, which hosts about 1.4 million foreign visitors every year and is home to the busiest airport in the world, is at particular risk. Every participant in the Paris attacks who has been publicly identified held a passport from a VWP country. Terrorists such as Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” and Zacarias Moussaoui, a 9/11 co-conspirator, have sought to enter the United States through the VWP.

Only biographic (name-based) checks are conducted before VWP travelers are allowed to board airplanes and travel to the United States. Prior to departure, there are no checks against databases that use biometrics such as fingerprints. Fingerprint checks are conducted upon arrival in the United States, which is too late for a terrorist who might try to detonate an explosive on a plane. As U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said:

    “I would tell you, from a threat standpoint, I’m probably more concerned with the visa waiver program today. Were I in Europe already, and I wanted to go the United States, and were I not on a watch list or a no-fly list and I wanted to get there, the likelihood is I would use the visa waiver program before I would try to pawn myself off as a refugee.”

Vulnerabilities in the VWP are aggravated by a loophole in federal law that permits VWP travelers to buy firearms. Current law prohibits visa holders from other countries from purchasing guns, but excludes travelers from the 38 VWP countries. In 1998, I authored a federal law that prohibits visiting foreign nationals from buying or possessing a firearm in the United States if the foreigner “has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa.” In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel determined that under the statute VWP travelers can legally purchase firearms because they have not technically “been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa.”

Last week, I introduced S. 2323, the Visa Waiver Program Firearms Clarification Act, legislation that would close this loophole and clarify that the prohibition on buying firearms applies to foreign visitors whether they enter with a visa or not.

Congress also must address another critical gap in our gun laws. Current federal law prohibits nine categories of dangerous people from possessing firearms (e.g., felons, the mentally unstable, fugitives, etc.) but not suspected terrorists. The Government Accountability Office found that from 2004-2014, people who were on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist tried to buy guns from American gun dealers at least 2,233 times. In 2,043 of those cases – 91 percent of the time – these suspected terrorists were able to successfully buy the gun. I am an original cosponsor of S. 551, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015, which would close this “terror gap” in our federal gun laws.

In conclusion, I respectfully request that you support the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Illinois and encourage your Republican allies in Congress to work with Democrats to address the critical gaps in our security infrastructure outlined above. Rather than targeting a few thousand refugees who are themselves fleeing from terrorism and are the most thoroughly vetted travelers to the United States, you should focus on 20 million VWP travelers who travel to our country and our state every year without adequate security checks, as well as an unknown number of suspected terrorists who are able to legally purchase firearms and dangerous explosives.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Emphasis added.

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

Benton circulating against McCann

Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

* I told subscribers about this yesterday morning

Bryce Benton, a state trooper and member of the Prairie Capital Convention Center’s board who sought last week to fill a vacancy in the Illinois House, said Monday he’s circulating petitions to run against state Sen. Sam McCann in the March Republican primary.

“The thing that I’ve been hearing … is the senator’s put himself in a position with the governor and the members of his own party and the legislature in general that he’s going to have a tough time advancing the interests of the people of central Illinois,” Benton said. […]

McCann also said he’d heard Benton was claiming Rauner’s support, but Benton denied having such support at this time. […]

McCann was the lone Republican in the Senate to vote with Democrats, and against Rauner’s position, when there was a 38-15 vote to override a Rauner veto of a bill that could have sent labor talks with state employee unions to arbitration.

Benton said he would have voted against the override – which ultimately failed in the House.

There will be a tendency for commenters to get all riled up and dismiss Benton today. But you should keep in mind that there is a ton of oppo on Sen. McCann out there. And that ain’t gonna look good in mailers.

He’s done a decent job of raising money this year, but McCann is gonna need lots more to make sure he can overcome the substantial negatives from that oppo if Benton taps into the Rauner bank account. There’s more to that district than state workers, so McCann has his job cut out for him.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

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Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

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* Happy Thanksgiving!
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Five unanswered questions
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Question of the day
* Caption contest!
* Crossing the line
* Moody's warns Illinois
* The Credit Union Difference
* *** UPDATED x1 - Franks responds *** Uh-oh
* Then and now
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today's edition of Capitol Fax (use all CAPS in password)
* Yesterday's blog posts

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* Lumia 950 and 950 XL launched in India, free Display Docks start shipping in the US
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