- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

EDITORS:

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December 6, 2014

Sauk Valley Media

Let’s learn from death of released inmate

The tragic death of a 65-year-old Rock Falls woman after her release Nov. 24 from the Whiteside County Jail should prompt serious soul-searching by Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi, the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department, and the community at large.

Janet Sims was let go from the Morrison lockup after serving 5 days of a 10-day sentence for misdemeanor trespassing.

The next day, she was found dead in a wooded area north of the jail. Preliminary results of an autopsy indicated that she died of hypothermia. Foul play is not suspected.

Among the circumstances surrounding Sims’ death include the fact that a snowstorm was moving through the area the day of her release; her family did not know she was in jail; Sims apparently failed to call anyone to pick her up; and Sims, according to family members, suffered from bipolar and schizoaffective disorders.

Other circumstances include the fact that the jail has no policies to make calls to arrange rides home for released inmates; the sheriff’s department apparently does not offer such rides itself; the sheriff said the department was not aware of Sims’ mental issues; and, simply, the death of a just-released jail inmate from exposure is not something that most people ever thought could happen.

Well, now it has, and something must be done about it.

Sheriff Wilhelmi and jail staff should re-examine their protocol when it comes to transportation home for released prisoners. A survey of other county jails might prove useful in coming up with options.

Sims’ son told Sauk Valley Media that someone at the jail had called him on a prior occasion and asked him to give his mother a ride home. Family members are angry about Sims’ death; they rightly question the failure of the jail staff to call someone this time, given the inclement weather.

After all, inmates usually receive a ride to jail by the sheriff’s department in the back seat of a county squad car, so those prisoners obviously won’t have their own personal vehicles at the ready in Morrison when they are released.

Each case is different, but clearly, had a little more common sense been brought to bear on that cold, snowy day, Janet Sims would not have walked away from jail to her death.

The county needs to learn from this tragedy and act to reduce the chances of it ever happening again.

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December 7, 2014

The Belleville News-Democrat

No pensions for felons

Felons forfeit their right to public pensions. Duh. That’s obvious to any right-thinking person. But the case of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge explains why Illinois legislators just passed a bill clarifying that point.

Burge was convicted in 2010 of obstruction of justice and lying about torturing police suspects and served time in federal prison. Still, the Chicago Police Pension Board allowed him to collect a lifetime pension of about $54,000 annually. Incredibly, the board somehow concluded that Burge’s conviction was not work-related. Outrageous? Most people thought so.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan went to court to intervene, but alas, the state Supreme Court concluded she didn’t have the authority. Well, now the attorney general will have the authority, assuming the bill is signed into law.

The state can’t go backward, and there’s nothing to do about Burge’s pension, distasteful as it is. But it’s some consolation to know that lawmakers have taken steps to prevent future outrages like this.

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December 2, 2014

Of vice and men

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Illinois lawmakers are trying to come to grips with the law of intended consequences.

It was pretty clear that the presence of video gambling in Illinois would grow dramatically after legislators approved a bill legalizing it in 2009.

That, after all, was the point. Legislators wanted to clean out the ostensibly illegal video gambling taking place in bars and service organizations and not producing any tax revenue and replace it with legal, highly taxed video gambling. The result is obvious for all to see - nearly 19,000 terminals in operation at more than 4,500 businesses across the state.

The law authorized any business holding a liquor license to put three to five video gambling machines in operation. In other words, if a business wants to put video machines in place, all that’s necessary is to acquire a liquor license. As a consequence, businesses that wanted in on the gold rush started applying for liquor licenses.

Does that surprise anyone? Actually, it does.

Some legislators who advocated the spread of video gambling claimed to be shocked - shocked - by the spread of video gambling.

“It was never our intention to turn florist’s shops into places for gambling,” said state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat.

Lang is referring to just one of a number of business owners who looked at the law and decided to take advantage of its provisions, including an equestrian center, an apartment complex and a string of quasi-restaurants. These places are actually gambling dens designed to appeal solely to women.

And the deluge continues.

It’s always interesting what legislators say they intended. For starters, Lang is just one of 118 members of the Illinois House, so what he personally wants the law to be is essentially irrelevant.

Legislative intent is determined by statutory language and, in this case, the law’s language could not be more clear.

If you want gambling machines, first acquire a liquor license.

Did legislators think businesses not currently holding a liquor license would ignore the option of acquiring one even though huge financial stakes are in play? Did they even read - with comprehension - the legislation they passed? Did they really not know what they were doing? Or are they now falsely playing the moral outrage card?

Critics of the legislation contended that its provisions would make video gambling available on every street corner in Illinois. It hasn’t gone that far yet, but give it a little more time.

Gambling has a natural appeal with people who like the allure of getting something for nothing as well as legislators who view it as the all-purpose solution to funding government.

That’s why Illinois has horse race betting, casino gambling, video gambling and legislators face constant requests for more, more and more of the same.

But there’s a limit to how much money people have to gamble. That’s why the owners of casinos already in business don’t want new ones to open, particularly in Chicago. That’s why casino operators are complaining that video gambling in some dive in Champaign is cutting down on the number of customers they host at casinos in Peoria or East St. Louis or Joliet.

So legislators like Lang now say they’re going to have to take another look at video gambling and determine if further regulation is in order. That’s sure to attract bucklet-loads of campaign donations from the well-heeled gambling interests that want either more or less than what’s already available.

The Associated Press recently reported that more than $3 billion has been wagered on video gambling machines since they were legalized in Illinois. That’s $3 billion not spent in other economic endeavors, producing more than $200 million in state revenues and an additional $40 million-plus for local governments.

Legislators like Lang confess to be surprised, even angry. If that’s really true, what’s their excuse for being stunned by a shocking glimpse of the obvious.

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