- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

June 29, 2014

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Illinois taxpayers deserve some answers

Illinois taxpayers deserve to know why the state wasted $55 million on a Chicago neighborhood violence reduction program.

That’s the bottom line of a lot of political-wrangling that’s going on these days. Federal and Cook County prosecutors are investigating the details of Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and will determine if there are any criminal avenues to pursue.



But whether laws were broken or not, there are a lot of questions swirling around the 2010 program.

It was a few weeks before the 2010 election when Quinn announced his program at a press conference surrounded by church ministers and Congressman Bobby Rush. The program was designed to address the issues of violence in many Chicago neighborhoods.

But a scathing state audit last year said the program was poorly implemented and poorly managed to the point where it was impossible to tell if any results had been achieved. Republicans have accused Quinn, who narrowly won the 2010 election, of using the money to solidify votes in the Chicago area. Quinn has said none of the money was spent before the election, although the Chicago Sun-Times has reported attempts to pay groups participating in the program took place ahead of the election. There are stories nearly every day about the program’s issues and the ties to the Quinn administration.

This week, the Legislative Audit Commission took the unusual step of issuing subpoenas for former state officials who worked for Quinn. The subpoenas mean that these officials will be compelled to testify at two days of hearings in July in front of the commission, which last issued subpoenas in the early 1980s.

As with anything in this election year, politics are a factor. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has made the program a central part of his campaign, while Democrats have been trying to downplay the program’s problems. The stakes are high since the Quinn-Rauner match-up is expected to be one of the most expensive and close governor races in the nation.

Despite the politics, taxpayers deserve some answers. “We’re charged with finding out not only what happened but how it happened … to make sure a failure of this magnitude doesn’t happen again,” said Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington and commission co-chairman.

What we already know about this program is troubling. Illinois voters - which have a too-high tolerance for ethical and legal lapses by officials - should question how a cash-strapped state could so callously waste $55 million. Quinn and his administration needs to supply some answers.

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June 28, 2014

(Peoria) Journal-Star

Ballot amendments tossed, Lincoln wants out

News flash: The nation’s 16th president has petitioned for relief from the grave, demanding that his name and likeness be removed from any references to or associations with the state of Illinois. The Land of Lincoln will have to become the Land of Something Else. Perhaps the Land Where Good Government Goes to Die.

A Cook County judge ruled on Friday that two citizen ballot initiatives - one that would impose term limits on Illinois legislators, the other putting the responsibility for drawing legislative maps into the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan, self-serving legislators - did not pass constitutional muster and, so far as she’s concerned, will not be on the ballot Nov. 4.

Cook County Judge Mary Mikva ruled that previous court precedent “dictates a very narrow provision for allowing the voters to directly enact amendments to the Illinois Constitution.” We don’t dispute that, which is among the reasons we thought it was a good idea to revisit that flawed 1970 document with another constitutional convention a few years back. Alas, we again found ourselves in the minority in 2008, when more than two-thirds of Illinois voters - 3 million plus - said they were perfectly content with the constitutional status quo that repeatedly comes back to bite us, and may yet again (see pension legislation).

Whatever, the two amendment questions have been tossed, for now. At least Mikva’s decision was quick, permitting an appeal to make its way to the Illinois Supreme Court in advance of the election. Unfortunately, it looks as if only Rauner & Co. intend to keep swinging, with Independent Maps organizers issuing a statement within hours of the decision that they are throwing in the towel for “this election cycle.” Between this and the wall they ran into with the Illinois Elections Board, it’s just too steep a hill to climb.

So, if term limits are the only game in town, well, good luck with the Supreme Court, though experience has taught us not to get our hopes up. Let’s face it, the enemies of reform in Illinois - House Speaker Michael Madigan being public enemy number one - have just proven themselves too adept at killing any and all attempts to limit their power. Illinoisans can be forgiven for believing that a couple of guys call all the shots in this state, that hundreds of thousands of signatures on petitions for change don’t matter, that it’s really not about them, anyway.

What’s really unconstitutional in Illinois, for all practical purposes, is competent, incorruptible government. Lincoln’s ghost must be embarrassed to even be buried in this national laughingstock of a place, stuck with the kind of beyond-redemption state government no one else in their right mind wants to have.

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June 28, 2014

Joliet Herald-News

Those who serve deserve the best we can give

The recent deaths of Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen Hancock, 20, of Coal City, and U.S. Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena are sober reminders that serving one’s country as a member of the military is not easy or safe.

Being in the military is risky right from the start. Injuries occur during basic training. There’s the loneliness of separation from loved ones and the terror of combat if deployed. Once home, these men and women face post-traumatic stress syndrome, which can lead to vivid nightmares, substance abuse and depression.

These men and women risked their lives - and their future health and happiness - for us and the freedoms many of us take for granted, instead of cherish. Talk to any veteran. Chances are, he or she could add a few more dangers to this list and share personal stories to illustrate them.

It was overwhelming to see the reception that Stephen and Aaron received from our local communities when they were brought home to be laid to rest. Yellow ribbons were tied around trees and lamp posts, marques on local stores were changed to offer prayers and condolences to their families, and thousands lined the streets with American flags in their hands and tears in their eyes, to honor hometown boys who gave all.

It was a proper and fitting tribute. But care cannot only be shown and provided when our servicemen and women return after they have given all.

Those who serve in the military deserve the best physical and mental health care possible, an issue we hope our lawmakers take more seriously and provide more oversight for in the future.

On a more personal level, we can send care packages and letters to our troops who are serving, to remind them the risks they shoulder to guarantee our freedoms aren’t in vain. Or give a simple handshake and a heartfelt “thank you” when you see an active-duty military member or veteran.

We enjoy freedoms citizens of other counties can only dream about. This is the least we can do for those who defend that freedom.

___

June 26, 2014

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Leave should not be a luxury

There are but a handful of countries in the world that do not provide working mothers with any guaranteed paid maternity leave; the United States is one of them.

As President Obama pointed out this week, America is the only one of the world’s industrialized nations that does not provide any kind of paid leave for new mothers and fathers.

Obama said he would like to change that, and he is right. A country that truly values families should do better.

Almost every other country in the world has recognized the importance of supporting new mothers when their children are born, and it’s somewhat incredible that the U.S. has not.

Although some states mandate paid family leave for new parents, or those who must care for sick loved ones, Illinois does not. In a common example, some new mothers must decide exactly how long they can afford to go without their income in order to stay home to care for their newborn child.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides people up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year, in which they are guaranteed to have their job - or a comparable job - back, but makes no provision for families’ living expenses.

As if simply adjusting to the disruption in one’s sleep schedule and trying to recover from childbirth wasn’t enough to worry about.

The 12-week leave allowance also is among the shortest in the world - some countries, such as Canada and Great Britain offer a full year of job protection, some of it with pay.

Many employers have decided on their own to offer paid family leave, others do not. And even the protections of FMLA do not apply to workers at firms with fewer than 50 employees.

We should do better for our country’s new parents. Short-term support for growing families is a public good, and paid maternity leave shouldn’t be a luxury available only to those lucky enough to work for an employer that can afford to offer it.

Making America’s workplaces more family friendly is important. However, there should also be some acknowledgment of basic facts. For example, a woman who actually gives birth to a child should be eligible for a longer period of paid leave than a father or adoptive parent.

Those are important jobs, too, but nothing quite like what a new mother does.

A newborn child is a big change and a big adjustment for a family. It is also a time when a mother’s care is most urgently needed.

It should not also be a time of financial turmoil.

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