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Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* For Schnorf

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

In which I agree with the governor

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* From the governor’s office…

Signing Statement for HB 950

To the Honorable Members of

The Illinois House,

99th General Assembly:

Today I signed House Bill 950 from the 99th General Assembly, which authorizes the issuance and renewal of liquor licenses for certain establishments located in Chicago.

This legislation is a continuance of the General Assembly’s practice of providing retail liquor licenses to single businesses through a statutory exemption process. However, it should not be necessary for business owners to seek statutory changes in order to obtain a retail liquor license. Going forward, I would encourage the General Assembly to enact a process whereby exemptions for retail liquor licenses can also be handled at the local level. By doing so, we ensure every resident and business owner has access to seek exemptions and are treated fairly.

I look forward to signing a bill that establishes such a process in the future.


Bruce Rauner


* From the bill’s synopsis

Authorizes the issuance and renewal of a license to sell alcoholic liquor at premises located within 100 feet of specific churches or schools located in the City of Chicago.

So, because state law bars the sale of booze within 100 feet of churches or schools, legislators have to pass complicated bills every time somebody with a little clout wants to carve out an exemption.

* Here’s the part of this bill which deals with one of the two exemptions

(1) the sale of alcoholic liquor at the premises is incidental to the sale of food;
(2) the sale of alcoholic liquor is not the principal business carried on by the licensee at the premises;
(3) the premises are located on the opposite side of the same street on which the church is located;
(4) the church is located on a corner lot;
(5) the shortest distance between the premises and the church is at least 90 feet apart and no greater than 95 feet apart;
(6) the premises are between 4,350 and 5,000 square feet;
(7) the church’s original chapel was built in 1858;
(8) the church’s first congregation was organized in 1860; and
(9) the leaders of the church and the alderman of the ward in which the premises are located has expressed, in writing, their support for the issuance of the license.

There are about 70 of these complicated exemptions in state statutes right now.

The governor is right. This is a local issue. Let them decide what to do.

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      

Stuff you may not know about Illinois pensions

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* The latest Illinois Issues article includes this quote from a study of the Illinois pension system

“The general condition of the pensions operating under the laws of Illinois may be correctly described as one of insolvency. That is to say, viewed from the standpoint of sound finance and of having the necessary reserves to carry out the payment laws, there are immense deficiencies in the existing funds.”

That study was conducted 100 years ago, in 1917.

* And then there’s this

Why does the state’s Constitution include such strict, locked-in language for pensions? At the 1970 Constitutional Convention, delegates were aware of a persistent problem in Illinois. Pension funds were suffering, and police and fire unions led a fight to protect their benefits. In the 1930s, when New York state was faced with the same problem, it established a new clause that made sure New York was stuck with the benefits it had promised. Under the threat, the state got its act together and shored up pension payments.

Illinois delegates took the language from New York with the hope that if it worked there it could work anywhere.

Of course, it didn’t work

This is Illinois, after all.

* The piece also takes a look at Senate President John Cullerton’s proposal, so click here and go read the whole thing. Good stuff.

- Posted by Rich Miller   80 Comments      

It’s just a bill

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* Conservative Democratic state Rep. with an increasingly Republican district who will undoubtedly be targeted by the GOP next year offers up some red meat that won’t go anywhere, but gets his name in the papers. Mission accomplished

A state representative from Smithton has filed a bill that would eliminate Illinois’ Firearm Owner’s Identification card, which is needed to buy or possess a gun.

Rep. Jerry Costello II, a Democrat, says FOID cards are a burden to “responsible” Illinois residents and prevent them from obtaining firearms and exercising their second amendment rights.

“It is burdensome on law-abiding citizens to have to overcome bureaucratic red tape in order to exercise their second amendment rights,” Costello said in a prepared statement.

All Illinois residents — barring a few who are specifically exempted, such as on-duty military personnel — must apply for a FOID card in order to legally purchase or possess a firearm or ammunition. According to Illinois State Police, the process is meant to determine whether an individual is eligible to purchase a firearm before allowing them to do so.

The bill is here.

* Editorial uses following words to describe the NFL Players Union’s stance on a piece of legislation: “Squawks,” “barking,” “strident,” and “whining.” Instead of wading through the Trib’s hyperbolic invective, here’s a non-strident take on the same topic from the Insurance Journal

Should injured pro athletes be allowed to earn workers’ compensation benefits until they are 67 years old, like other workers, even if their athletic careers normally would have ended more than 30 years earlier?

That issue is being debated between the Chicago Bears and the NFL Players Association in the Illinois Legislature as one unlikely element of a compromise proposal to end a nearly two-year-long fight over the state’s budget.

The Bears are leading other Chicago sports franchises in backing a measure that would reduce a former player’s ability to tap into workers’ compensation after a career-ending injury. They want to cap certain payments to athletes at no older than 35 or five years after their injury. Currently they can claim benefits up to age 67, like other workers.

Neither the teams nor players’ advocates will say how much money is at stake. They agree it is not a relatively big pot — while theoretically some could claim millions, most if not all athletes settle their claims for reduced sums up front, the players association says.

Only a handful of pro players filed for the benefit here in the past four years, although the association would not identify them or describe their individual cases.

But one example in the public record of an athlete who claimed this compensation is former Bears offensive lineman Ted Albrecht, a first-round draft choice whose career ended with a back injury in 1982. An arbitrator tried to deny his claim, but an appeals court ruled he was entitled to receive an award based on the difference between his $130,000 Bears salary and what he later earned as a travel agent and sportscaster, which ranged from $87,000 to $36,000 between 1983 and 1986.

* Probably not a bad idea…

Legislation sponsored by State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) that would provide a clear enforcement mechanism to ensure a detailed review of purchases made through out-of-state joint purchasing agreements received a unanimous vote of recommended approval on Thursday from the House State Government Administration Committee.

“This issue was brought to my attention because of purchases made by Illinois government units through joint purchasing agreements with other states’ government units. Illinois law requires competitive bidding, but because other states’ laws are not always as protective of taxpayers as our own, we need a strong enforcement mechanism to make sure Illinois law is followed. House Bill 2424 gives our state’s Chief Procurement Officer, who is charged with enforcing that law, the authority needed to thoroughly review these out-of-state procurements for compliance with Illinois law.”

According to Breen, joint purchasing agreements are very common among local units of government and allow for quantity discount pricing, which ultimately saves taxpayers money. While group purchasing is typically done by entities within the same state, there are occasions when joint purchasing agreements cross state lines.

“After filing this bill, I’ve had numerous other situations involving multi-state agreements that appear to have skirted Illinois’ Joint Purchasing Act,” Breen said. “As our school districts and other units of local government continue trying to bring down their costs through these types of purchasing agreements, we need to support those efforts while making sure our competitive bidding laws are being followed.”

Breen said he is currently negotiating an agreed amendment to the bill with stakeholders that will be added prior to the bill’s final consideration on the floor of the House.

* Related…

* Tom Kacich: Bill looks to memorialize victims of ‘79 gunfight

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* Tribune

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said Thursday that Illinois should take a day each year to honor former Democratic President Barack Obama, but it shouldn’t come with a day off work. […]

“It’s incredibly proud for Illinois that the president came from Illinois. I think it’s awesome, and I think we should celebrate it,” Rauner said when asked about the measure by a reporter at an unrelated event. “I don’t think it should be a formal holiday with paid, forced time off, but I think it should be a day of acknowledgment and celebration.”

In line with Rauner’s view, a Senate bill would designate Aug. 4 as Barack Obama Day — but it would be a commemorative day instead of a state holiday. […]

Other proposals to honor the former president and his influence in Illinois have surfaced in the General Assembly. One plan would label the stretch of Interstate 55 from the Tri-State Tollway to East St. Louis the “Barack Obama Presidential Expressway.” A separate measure would dub the Tri-State the “President Barack Obama Tollway.”

We’ve already got a Kennedy Expressway, an Eisenhower Expressway, a Reagan Tollway, a Grant Park, a state holiday for Lincoln’s birthday, etc.

* The Question: What should Illinois do to honor Barack Obama? No snark and please explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   59 Comments      

AG Madigan wants expansion of hate crime law

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* Sun-Times

Responding to what she called a spike in reports of harassment and vandalism targeting Jews, Muslims and other minorities, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is calling for legislation that would broaden Illinois hate crime laws.

Madigan on Thursday hosted a “summit” at the Thompson Center, with a panel of leaders from two dozen advocacy groups, ranging from the Jewish United Fund to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to Lambda Legal and the National Immigrant Justice Center. The disparate groups were concerned about an increase in hostility toward Muslims, immigrants and LGBTQ people they claim has coincided with Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency.

“We just had active-shooter training at our office, because we also realize that we have to keep our people safe,” said Kim Fountain, chief operating officer of Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ rights organization. “It scared a lot of our staff, but we had to do it.”

Madigan is backing legislation that would make electronic harassment on Facebook, Twitter or other social media a prosecutable offense, and also would give her office the power to pursue civil damages for victims of hate crimes.

* The proposed new provisions are underlined and bolded

A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors, he or she commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, intimidation, stalking, cyberstalking, misdemeanor theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action, disorderly conduct, transmission of obscene messages, harassment by telephone, or harassment through electronic communications as these crimes are defined in [other statutes].

* From the synopsis, it also adds this provision

Provides that independent of any criminal prosecution or the result of a criminal prosecution, any person suffering intimidation, stalking, cyberstalking, disorderly conduct, transmission of obscene messages, harassment by telephone, or harassment through electronic communications may bring a civil action for damages, injunction or other appropriate relief. Provides that the Attorney General may bring an action for civil damages for a hate crime in the name of the People of the State. Provides that the court shall impose a civil penalty of $25,000 for each violation of the hate crime statute.


- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      

Déjà vu all over again

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* He doesn’t have an ownership stake in his law firm, he says his salary at the firm is less than his legislative pay and that his total compensation is less than the governor’s official salary and he doesn’t work for or financially benefit from state-related clients. And yet

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, is one of the most powerful people in Springfield, talked about as a possible future president of the Illinois Senate.

He’s also a partner in a Chicago law firm that’s been paid more than $9 million in the past five years for doing legal work for state agencies, government workers’ pension funds and local governments whose citizens he represents in the Senate, a Chicago Sun-Times examination has found.

That covers work done for more than 20 government bodies, including the city of Chicago, Cook County, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

The firm — Burke Burns & Pinelli — has done work for agencies whose budgets Harmon votes on, including the Illinois Department of Transportation, and government pension funds regulated by Harmon and his fellow legislators, as well as the village of Rosemont, one of the suburbs he represents in the Illinois Senate, according to records and interviews. […]

Harmon — who once worked as deputy legal counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago — was elected to the state Senate in 2002.

There’s a whole lot of sizzle and not a lot of steak in that piece, not unlike an eerily similar BGA story from 2012

Since bringing an influential state legislator on board as a partner in 2005, a small Chicago law firm has secured at least $6.3 million in legal work from state agencies that receive funding and oversight from the General Assembly, the Better Government Association has learned.

While that relationship smacks of a conflict of interest, it’s not the only curiosity involving the legislator, state Sen. Don Harmon, and the firm where he’s a partner, Burke Burns & Pinelli Ltd.

The BGA also found that Harmon – a Democrat from Oak Park who once served as deputy legal counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – voted earlier this year on a casino bill that his firm helped craft on behalf of its client, the City of Des Plaines. […]

A BGA review of state financial records shows Burke Burns, a firm of 10 or so attorneys, was paid more than $1 million in each of the past two fiscal years for state-related work.

Overall, the firm was paid more than $6.3 million – or an average of $900,000 a year – from 2006 to 2012 for state-related work, according to interviews, and documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. (Fiscal year 2006 was Harmon’s first full year with the firm.)

By contrast, in the four years before Harmon joined the firm, annual payments exceeded $575,000 only once, topping out at $711,734, records show. However, those totals may be incomplete because several state agencies indicated they no longer had data for fiscal years 2001 and 2002. In addition, some records relating to bond work are not always tracked by state agencies.

Harmon says if all payments were included it would show the firm’s state work hasn’t increased dramatically since his hiring, especially given the rate of inflation. But he declined to disclose actual payments or turn over financial records to the BGA.

* One of the reporters who wrote today’s Sun-Times story was with the BGA when that 2012 story was published. An opinion piece above his name was also published back in 2012. It threw the kitchen sink at Harmon

Harmon’s street cred as a “reformer” or progressive has to be questioned.

Why does his law firm advise public-sector clients not to speak to the media?

Why did he vote to water down the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which ensures journalists and regular citizens can access most government documents?

Why did he accept $300 in campaign donations just a couple months back from D & P Construction, a waste-hauling company that’s repeatedly (and publicly) been linked to the Chicago mob?

Why did he introduce a piece of legislation that would allow office holders to “double dip” – hold two elected positions at once?

Peter Silvestri, a Cook County commissioner and Elmwood Park’s village president, told the BGA that Harmon fronted that bill at his request. After the BGA learned of the legislation, Harmon relayed that he changed his mind and was withdrawing his support.

But about a month later he quietly resurrected the bill in the form of an amendment to an unrelated piece of legislation. When we tried to ask him about the flip-flop, Harmon wouldn’t return our calls. He later told the BGA he regretted getting involved in the matter. The legislation was never approved.

Lastly, although we’re not into branding people with “guilt by association,” it’s worth noting Harmon started out his career as an aide to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who is the ultimate Machine guy – one of the most powerful political figures in the state and one of the largest obstacles to reforming our troubled government system.

This isn’t to say Harmon hasn’t done good things. In fact, he’s worked with the BGA on legislation, including a successful effort to kill the misused and abused “legislative scholarship” program.

But judged through a larger prism, Harmon isn’t challenging the status quo. He is the status quo.

Ergo, today’s piece.

- Posted by Rich Miller   48 Comments      

Rauner defends grand bargain parameters

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* After not speaking to reporters since he gave his budget address, Gov. Rauner took questions yesterday, including on whether he helped or hurt the Senate’s attempt at reaching a bipartisan compromise

“President Cullerton in the media asked me to weigh in. Democrats and Republicans in private asked me to weigh in. That’s what I did. I honored their request. And if you listen to what I said, everything that I laid out was very reasonable, very reasonable,” Rauner said. […]

Rauner’s parameters include a permanent property tax freeze in exchange for a permanent income tax hike. The Senate plan currently calls for a two-year property tax freeze. The governor also wants a limit on spending and further changes to the workers compensation law for employees hurt on the job, as business groups say the Senate’s plan to curb workers’ compensation costs doesn’t go far enough.

“We should do these things, and they should in no way infringe on or hurt the ability to get a final deal,” said Rauner, who noted the House approved a permanent property tax freeze earlier this year.

But that vote came during the lame-duck session when there was no possibility the bill would be taken up by the Senate, a move designed to provide political cover to Democrats. Local schools and towns oppose a property tax freeze, saying it would hurt their ability to tap into money for day-to-day operations.

Actually, President Cullerton said it would help get Republican votes if the governor came out in favor of the grand bargain. Instead, the governor laid down a list of his own demands.

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      

“We are proud to call him one of our own”

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* From a Greenville, North Carolina TV station last year

A Marine reservist from Illinois says he helped rescue one of two teens who were struggling in the surf off Emerald Isle Tuesday night.

Duncan Harris of Peoria, Illinois spoke to WITN’s Heather King on WITN News at Sunrise Wednesday. Harris says his family is on vacation in Emerald Isle. Tuesday night, he says his sister heard screams on the beach. Harris says from the deck of the house, he saw at least one person in the water, between 100 and 150 yards out in the surf. That’s when he and another man he doesn’t know ran into the water.

The two pulled a teen back to the beach, and Harris says they were told there was another boy out there. At that point, rescue boats arrived to help the still struggling teen.

* That rescue led to a Carnegie Hero Fund award in December

Duncan Harris said he’s often asked if he feels like a hero after he and another man helped pull a drowning boy from the ocean.

“To me, it’s just one of those things,” said Harris, 23, of Buffalo Grove. “When it happened, I acted.”

While Harris, a Marine reservist, isn’t quick to call himself a hero, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission thought the title was fitting when it named him a recipient of the Carnegie medal, an honor for those who risk their lives to save others.

Peter Pontzer, 51, of Fairfax, Va., the other man who worked with Harris to save the boy, also will receive a medal, along with 19 others, the commission announced this week.

* And, yesterday, Gov. Rauner held a ceremony for Harris at his Statehouse office

Thursday was Duncan O.C. Harris Day in Illinois.

Did you know that? There were no parades for the Buffalo Grove resident. No special treats. No days off school.

Maybe you missed it.

But for the family of the teen Harris saved from drowning, one day surely doesn’t seem like enough.

“Duncan did not hesitate for a minute in putting his own life in danger in order to save this boy’s life,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said during Thursday’s recognition ceremony in Springfield. “His brave and courageous actions reflect the very best of the people of Illinois, and we are proud to call him one of our own.”

Video of the ceremony is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      

Springfield holds its collective breath as strike talk mounts, budget impasse continues

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* SJ-R business editor Tim Landis on the impact of a potential AFSCME strike on Springfield and the surrounding area

“If you talk to anybody, any member in any field, and anybody who watches tax revenue, there is this massive amount of uncertainty accruing,” Bill McMahon, executive director of Local First Springfield, said Thursday. […]

Not only are consumers affected, said McMahon, businesses are reluctant to expand and hire as a result of the uncertainty.

“Everyone is waiting for things to settle out,” said McMahon. “It’s all the things you feel like in a recession.” […]

The anxiety is evident in spring and fall surveys of local business sentiment by the Survey Research Office at the University of Illinois Springfield. A little less than half of business owners surveyed in the fall expected sales to increase in the coming year compared with nearly 70 percent who made that prediction in the fall of 2015. In the most recent survey, 56 percent cited state finances as the biggest challenge in the coming year.

Springfield officials, including Mayor Jim Langfelder, recently have blamed the uncertainty of state finances for an estimated $1.3 million shortfall in sales tax revenue for the fiscal year that ends Tuesday.

- Posted by Rich Miller   72 Comments      

*** LIVE *** House session coverage

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* As always, follow along with ScribbleLive

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* How Jason Van Dyke's projected 96-year sentence wound up being 81 months
* Pritzker campaign official pushes back hard against latest lawsuit
* Reader comments closed for the holiday weekend
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* Pritzker orders "comprehensive review" of problems, opportunities at state veterans' homes
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* RNUG: Vallas' plan "appears to make Chicago's pension problem manageable"
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