- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

July 27, 2015

Chicago Sun-Times

Make gun laws work the way they’re supposed to

Half the guns used by criminals in Illinois gush in from states that do an even lousier job than Illinois of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

When a big city like Chicago is a national hub of the illegal drug trade then stopping that flow of guns is essential.

Now, finally, a leading voice of the Republican Party, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, on Sunday said what Chicago leaders have been saying for years: At least close the loopholes and enforce the common-sense gun laws on the books.

Jindal, who is running for president, said every state must make it a priority to file records of mentally ill people into a federal database. Had that been done, he said, John Houser, the Alabama man who shot up a movie theater last Thursday in Louisiana, never would have been able to buy a gun in Alabama. Jindal said Houser would have been turned away in Louisiana.

In 2008, his family secured a court order involuntarily committing him because he posed a danger to himself and others. And yet he legally bought a weapon at a gun shop with only a brief delay. Houser’s involuntary commitment should have disqualified him from buying a gun, but the creaky reporting system didn’t get that critical fact to the gun shop. Dylann Roof, accused of shooting and killing nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church, also slipped through the system.

Federal law prohibits licensed gun dealers from selling to anyone listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a database of banned users, including criminals, drug users and the mentally ill. But the federal system is only as good as the information states feed into it, and many states do a lackluster job. Many names never make it into the system at all.

Loopholes in the background check system let guns flow both to the mentally ill and to criminals. The results are abhorrent. Just over the weekend in Chicago, shootings took the lives of seven people and injured 34. Shots were fired from cars, shots were fired from a sidewalk, shots rang out from places victims couldn’t identify. It’s likely at least some of those shootings were tied to the sprawling illegal drug trade in the city as various factions war over who will make off with the profits.

In Illinois, opponents of gun violence are seeking to close an enforcement loophole with legislation to license all gun dealers. Just four gun shops sell far and away the most firearms that turn up at Cook County crime scenes. A licensing system would enable a crackdown on flagrant sources of crime guns.

But Illinois needs help from its neighbors. Authorities here have worked to eliminate a backlog of mental health records that were not entered into the federal system. But that effort can easily be undermined if someone can drive to a different state and buy a gun there.

As Jindal said, “We need to make sure the systems we have in place actually work.”

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July 25, 2015

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Local economy needs state, AFSCME to keep talking

As Gov. Bruce Rauner continues to use Illinois’ budget stalemate as leverage for elements of his “turnaround agenda” that have nothing to do with the budget, another potential crisis is brewing in the wings.

Friday is July 31, the final day of a month-long extension to contract negotiations between the governor’s administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the largest state employee union.

It’s unclear if talks will be extended again, but we hope that’s the case if they can’t come to an agreement by Friday. It’s in the best interests of state services, of workers’ families and of the local economy that negotiations continue - however long that might take - rather than opening the door to a strike or a lockout involving thousands of state employees.

AFSCME’s contract expired June 30, and negotiations with the state had been under way for about six months prior to that. The conversation was complicated in November when Illinois voters elected Rauner, a Republican governor who made no secret that he considers unions the root of many of the state’s financial problems.

Negotiations wore on, and in late June it became clear the two sides would not reach a contract by the deadline. In a show of compromise and good faith, the administration and AFSCME agreed to extend the existing contract by a month and continue negotiations in July without a strike or lockout.

Now, as the end of July approaches, it appears the two sides are not much closer to an agreement than they were a month ago.

There was a glimmer of hope earlier this month when the governor’s office and a teamsters local representing about 350 Cook County workers came to terms on a four-year contract, which included a wage freeze and other concessions in light of the state’s financial difficulties.

But AFSCME, which represents about 38,000 state workers who currently are being paid by court order while Rauner and Democratic leaders struggle to craft a budget, has indicated concern that the governor may try to force a work stoppage.

Without a contract, AFSCME workers could vote to go on strike or Rauner could lock them out - though his spokeswoman in June told The Associated Press the administration “is not going to lock out employees, and our team will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall on Friday could only say the two sides “remain very far apart on many very basic issues.”

In late May, lawmakers sent Rauner a union-backed bill that would prevent strikes or lockouts of state employees during the current contract talks and would allow an independent arbitrator to get involved if they reach an impasse.

Rauner has until Aug. 4 to sign or veto the legislation. Democratic lawmakers could vote to override a veto.

While negotiations continue, one thing is clear: the Sangamon County economy would take a hit if state workers were to strike or be locked out. About 17,400 people work for state government in the Springfield metro area.

Economically, nothing good would come from 10,000 people suddenly on strike or locked out of their jobs in central Illinois. The ripple effects - tidal waves more likely - would be difficult for local businesses and families to overcome.

AFSCME and the Rauner administration must continue to negotiate in good faith.

___

July 22, 2015

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Rauner, Cullerton could freeze property taxes

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his GOP allies could get the property tax freeze they’re after. But it would require ditching the fashionable assault on prevailing wage and actually working with Senate President John Cullerton.

Rauner has spent months locking horns with Speaker Mike Madigan, even going so far as shilling out his own cash on a television ad campaign targeting the long-time House leader. Meanwhile, Cullerton has repeatedly offered “compromises” only to be rebuked by non-voting Republicans staying loyal to Rauner’s plan.

Rauner says he would pay for the loss of local tax revenue by elimination of the prevailing wage for laborers, largely unionized private contractors.

Indiana just gutted its prevailing wage and it’s too early to gauge the effects on the cost of road work on other construction projects. But, most assuredly, wages will drop. And, it’s yet to be seen if an influx of out-of-state contractors will start winning most of the bids, as predicted by union officials. Without a standard wage, it’s a possibility that could see cash bleed from local communities.

Cullerton’s take is far more palatable for Democrats and union-friendly Republicans alike. His bill would remake how Illinois funds its public school system, which has for decades been over-reliant. The property tax model particularly draws the ire of urban lawmakers, who consider it unfair to students from poor neighborhoods.

Cullerton offered a fair approach. And yet, it failed with only 32 votes in favor. Once again, “present” votes scuttled even the hint of progress on the now three-week-old budget impasse.

As we’ve repeatedly stated, Rauner’s calls to reshape Illinois have merit. For too long, unbalanced budgets have resulted in a state that can’t pay its bills and robs Peter to pay its pension.

Slowly but surely, Illinois is becoming surrounded by states that have gutted labor wage and bargaining protections. But that won’t politically fly in Illinois and rightly so. Just because several states have blamed workers for years of legislative mismanagement doesn’t mean Illinois has to follow suit.

Illinois property taxes are crushing homeowners and businesses. Too many schools in poor districts are underfunded. And Cullerton has offered a plan that, with Rauner’s support, could gain much-needed momentum. In exchange, Rauner could push for reform of worker’s compensation insurance, which does cost in-state businesses more than it should.

Both sides obviously realize an income tax hike is necessary to fund state government. A property tax accord could be the first step toward the grand bargain Illinois needs and needs quickly.

Rauner has proven himself a capable combatant. But good politics requires knowing when to saber rattle and when to make a deal.

Cullerton looks willing to actually get something done. Rauner and General Assembly Republicans would be wise to work with him.

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