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Memorial Day roundup

Monday, May 27, 2019

* It’s a holiday and comments will likely be slow today, so I decided to combine several topics into one roundup post…

* Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed to ‘think big’ as a candidate, but is his agenda too big? Lawmakers will decide this week: Heading into the weekend, an optimistic Pritzker told reporters that many of his proposals were lined up and ready for a final vote. “There’s a lot of support for them and I’m looking forward to seeing some success over the next week,” he said. In that very first “think big” campaign ad for Pritzker from May 2017, it ended with an announcer saying of the Democrat: “Getting things done.” The next week may decide the veracity of that claim.

* Suburban Democrats key to pot legalization passage but some are breaking ranks: The Daily Herald reached out to 24 suburban Democrats. Twelve responded, and of those, eight or 67% were uncommitted or disagreed with the current version of the legalization policy. “I have concerns regarding the expungement language, and I don’t support allowing homegrown plants,” said Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates. “Additionally, I’m also concerned about how difficult it would be for law enforcement to determine if someone is driving under the influence.” Illinoisans cultivating their own weed also was a deal-breaker for Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines.

* Task force to study ways to reduce property taxes in Illinois as House prepares for progressive tax vote: “I think it’s the intent of the caucuses to try to work toward a summer task force to deal with property tax relief,” Zalewski said. Pritzker’s proposal includes property tax credits, but with local governments reporting more of their share of property tax revenue going into pensions, state Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, said the only way to address property taxes is to deal with the state’s pension crisis.

* Negotiations continue on gambling expansion bill: [Rep. Bob Rita] also said sports betting by itself may not have enough support to pass the legislature. “People want casinos in their regions,” he said. “If we go forward with just sports betting, where does that leave what we’ve been working on all these years? We’re looking for money. This is a way of putting additional money to the state.”

* Will latest changes make sports betting bill — and casinos — a winning wager?: New language regarding the sports betting measure was distributed on Thursday, and Zalewski, D-Riverside, on Friday said he doesn’t believe the matter is dead. The changes — which have not yet been filed in an amendment — would allow riverboats to operate a sportsbook immediately and would allow them to operate online betting 18 months after the bill is signed. It would do the same for horseracing tracks. “It’s also not as much as prohibiting, but just simply again, we’re going to give Illinois casinos a leg up before we go to an online platform,” said Zalewski, who is also the chair of the House Revenue and Finance Committee. Within that 18-month period, those wanting to make a bet on sports would have to physically enter a casino, instead of what they can currently do as FanDuel and DraftKings customers: take out their phone and make a bet. It would also allow sports facilities with seating over 20,000 to be able to apply for a license to operate a sports book at the facility within a five-block radius.

* Craft Brewers Fighting Construction Tax: The proposal would increase the state beer tax by 4.6 cents per gallon. Brewers claim that could cost them $70 million a year. Danielle D’Alessandro, executive director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, said more than half of what customers pay for their six-pack or pint already goes to the government. That includes federal, state and local taxes. “Many may not realize it, but taxes are the most expensive ingredient in beer,” she said. “Not hops or barley or water. Taxes.”

* Illinois lawmakers have 5 days left, 5 big issues to settle: Critics fear that while revenue would be enough for “horizontal” road and bridge work, proposed sources for “vertical” projects including schools, recreational facilities and sewer plants are insufficient. And the unpopularity of the taxes, such as on ride-share trips and cable, satellite and video streaming services, make approval dicey. A key Senate Republican advises reviving a proposal to expand casino gambling to shore up financing.

* Durkin: State budget should take priority in discussions: Our votes mean something, particularly when it comes to some of these big ticket items. We’d like to be part of the budget, but if they don’t need us, if they don’t want our participation or our recommendations, then they’re free to do it on their own. But when it comes to issues that are of other, higher importance, at least these big ticket items, I don’t think that they want to do this strictly on their own and that became very clear yesterday on capital that they need Republican votes. We do have value in this process. We’re in the minority but our votes count. We’ll be willing participants in every proposal as long as we believe we’re given a fair shot and we’re being treated equally, but we’re not going to be undermined. This has got to be a two-way street.

* Child Welfare Caseworkers Ask For ‘Emergency Funding’: Child welfare workers are calling on Illinois lawmakers to better fund private services. That comes after Governor J.B. Pritzker announced plans to overhaul the Department of Children and Family Services’ Intact Family Services unit, which supports families after they’ve been investigated for abuse or neglect. The private organizations that provide those services are asking for $30.7 million in “emergency funding” to address what they call a workforce crisis. Andrea Durbin, CEO of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, said nearly half of private caseworkers leave the industry due to low pay and high demand.

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


RHA appears back on track

Monday, May 27, 2019

* Tribune

An Illinois House committee on Sunday night voted 12-7 in support of an amendment to an abortion rights bill, advancing a controversial measure that had been stalled for months.

The bill, which is being sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, finally appeared poised to move forward last week, after a lengthy discussion by the House Democratic Caucus. Sunday’s vote came hours after the measure was sent to the House Appropriations Committee.

There has been a renewed sense of urgency behind the measure after several states passed restrictive abortion laws, and concerns that court cases slated to be decided after the General Assembly adjourns could result in injunctions being lifted on some pieces of the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, Cassidy said. […]

The bill repeals the state’s current abortion law and replaces it with a new law that removes measures involving spousal consent, waiting periods, criminal penalties for physicians who perform abortions and other restrictions on facilities where abortions are performed. The amendment to the bill that was filed on Sunday seeks to clarify the definitions of viability and health, which Cassidy said were developed through discussions with colleagues.

* Capitol News Illinois

One [amendment, Emily Werth, an attorney with the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberty Union] said, makes “explicitly clear” a health care provider who has a moral, ethical or religious objection to abortions do not have to participate in performing one. The Reproductive Health Act would repeal several statutes in existing law that refuse to take part in such procedures, leaving one law, the Health Care Right of Conscience Act in place. […]

The newly-filed act also clarifies a contentious point among opponents — that the Reproductive Health Act requires private insurance companies regulated by the state to cover abortion procedures if they also cover pregnancy-related benefits. It now allows for cost-sharing provisions, such as copayments, so long as they do not exceed those that apply to pregnancy-related coverage.

Finally, Werth said, the bill clarifies that physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses can only “provide abortion care that is otherwise consistent with what is within their scope of practice and their professional licensing act.” […]

“The opponents to the bill have really focused, unfortunately, on later abortion, which is rare — but they have focused in on that and have been saying some things that are frankly, at best misleading and at worst completely untrue about the legislation,” said Brigid Leahy, senior director for public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “We have added in clarifying language [on viability] that basically clarifies what is happening right now in Illinois, what the standard is right now and what it has been for many, many years.”

* Illinois Public Radio

Sponsoring state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago, said it’s about trusting women and their doctors to make the best choice for their health and lifestyle.

“My abortion was medically necessary,” Cassidy told her colleagues. “It saved my life. It preserved my fertility. It allowed for the creation of my family, my children, who are my world.”

Hannah Meisel was live-tweeting the bill’s progress last night. Click here for that.

* Things did become contentious

While objecting to bill, several Republicans also took issue with the way the amendment was brought to committee, saying it prevented opponents from being able to testify against the legislation.

Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, objected that the hearing notice was posted online only an hour in advance.

“No one from my district could have made it here to testify on this bill with one hour’s notice,” Demmer said. “I imagine that’s true of many of my constituents.”

Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said SB 25 was “hijacked” to make sure the bill was heard on Sunday night of a holiday weekend.

″(It’s) what I would consider secrecy,” she said. “It was rushed. … I’m disappointed that it’s been handled this way.”

* Illinois’ Catholic bishops…

During the past week, we have watched supporters of the misnamed “Reproductive Health Act” propel the legislation into the end-of-session rush. The introduced version of the bill dramatically rewrites current abortion law, going further than Roe v. Wade in stripping human rights and dignity from the unborn child with this single statement: “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of this State.” The fundamental premise of the bill is flawed, and no amendment or tweak to the language will change the fact that it is designed to rob the vulnerable life in the womb of any trace of human dignity and value.

On Memorial Day, there will be five days left in the legislative session set to end on May 31. Major issues that will require bipartisan cooperation and unity among lawmakers remain, such as passing a balanced budget for the health, education and safety of Illinois residents and crafting a statewide construction plan with unresolved funding. Conversations on these matters need to take place in an atmosphere of comity and civility, and any talk of abortion will only sow more divisiveness and disharmony in today’s polarized political climate.

We ask that lawmakers set aside consideration of the “Reproductive Health Act,” especially since no final form of the bill has been published, vetted through hearings or fully discussed.

* Planned Parenthood…

Statement from Jennifer Welch, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Illinois

”I am grateful to Chairwoman Robyn Gabel for calling the Reproductive Health Care Act to a vote in the Human Services Appropriations. The time for recognizing abortion as health care in Illinois is long overdue. We’re looking forward to the bill moving quickly through committee to a full vote in the General Assembly and off to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”

* Mayor Lightfoot…

I applaud the legislators who voted yes tonight on the passage of the Reproductive Health Act. With the onslaught of attacks against reproductive rights happening all across the country, we must act to double down on protections here in Illinois. The time is now to ensure that we preserve access to safe, legal abortion in our state. We won’t go backwards. The full General Assembly must act swiftly to pass the RHA.

* Related…

* ‘Just seems cruel’: 800-mile trip to end severely troubled pregnancy illustrates divide on abortion laws

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


More details on that threatening letter

Monday, May 27, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

As the state Legislature’s spring session nears its end, I want to take a moment to look back on one of the scariest times of the year with the hope that one of you might recognize something and help bring a deranged person to justice.

You may have seen a brief news story about it, but several state legislators reported receiving an identical mailer in late April with the headline: “Dead People Can’t Collect Fat Pensions.” The envelopes were postmarked in Champaign, but that’s a central collection point so the letters could’ve been mailed from anywhere in the region.

The letter contained both a long list of grievances about the state’s troubled pension system and numerous death threats. ”Don’t bother about new gun laws,” the letter writer stated, “from arson to strangulation, there are more effective means available.”

”You may think you can extract more money from us,” the writer warned. ”We would advise you to think again. Over 40,000 cowards unwilling to push back have left the state annually over the last 5 years, leaving behind the determined, the courageous — and most importantly — those with nothing left to lose.”

”Time is short. The list is long. After the first one, the rest are free,” the writer concluded.

The writer threatened mass assassinations for pretty much everyone who receives a state government pension, including survivors and heirs.

To avoid this fate, the author demanded in the form letter that the pension actuarial tables be changed and the state’s constitution be amended to remove the pension protection clause before instituting a graduated income tax. The writer also demanded unspecified “cap$ and clawback$ for outrageous$ pension payout$” and local government consolidation. He or she also demanded the end of pension double-dipping and “playing salary games at career’s end to max out your take.”

Whoever wrote that letter is obviously more informed about state government than most average citizens.

While the content of the mass mailer was identical, whoever sent it took some time to make almost every one distinct.

One way the author individualized the letters was by using a different return address for almost all of them. The envelope sent to House Speaker Michael Madigan, for instance, used a return address for Gov. JB Pritzker. The Illinois Education Association’s letter had the same return address, which was for Pritzker’s personal business office in Chicago. The letter sent to a Champaign public radio station was ostensibly from the late Dawn Clark Netsch, the first woman elected to a statewide office in Illinois. All the return addresses were printed on labels and not hand-written.

However, most of the return addresses appear to have been researched on the Illinois State Board of Elections’ website. Several legislators told me that the names and return addresses on letters sent to them were of campaign contributors who can be found with an online search.

Some return addresses and names were of political action committees. The letter addressed to a prominent gun control proponent, for instance, had a return address of a gun control political action committee which had contributed to his campaign last year.

Other letters were ostensibly from specific individuals, including a prominent retired Chicago business executive, a legislator’s mother, a legislator’s relative and the husband of a state representative’s senator. All were campaign contributors.

In other words, whoever sent this letter doesn’t appear to be just some random crank with a handy mailing list. That person or persons put some real time and effort into this. And that almost bothers me more than the letter itself.

A state senator who received one of the mailers said the postage stamp on the envelope chilled him to the bone. The sender used a John Lennon stamp. The former Beatle was murdered in 1980.

The letter writer had threatened all pension plan participants with being killed and cryptically asked recipients if they were “sure” that some accidental deaths on the highways were truly accidents or “the conscious decisions of people with nothing left to lose to ‘take one with me?’”

And that leads us to the most egregious example of how truly sick this person is. The return address on the letter mailed to a Rockford-area legislator made it appear that it came from Brooke Jones-Story, an Illinois State Trooper who was killed by another motorist during a traffic stop in March near Rockford. Jones-Story was one of three troopers killed by motorists in the first three months of 2019.

If you have any information at all, please call the Illinois State Police or the FBI.

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


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