- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

July 6, 2015

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Rauner should move quickly to approve courtroom comfort dogs

Of all the decisions Gov. Bruce Rauner has to make in the coming weeks, one should be a no-brainer.

Rauner should quickly sign into law a bill that allows specially trained dogs in courtrooms to accompany children, 18 and younger, or developmentally disabled adults to the witness stand while testifying in cases involving sexual abuse and exploitation.

Rauner’s signature on the bill would make Illinois just the third state in the nation to have a law specifically addressing courtroom dog use and providing specific guidance to judges. The legislation was unanimously approved by the state House and Senate. The aim is for the dogs — known as facility dogs — to provide a measure of comfort at a time when a child or developmentally disabled adult needs it most.

Sitting on the witness stand and recounting horrifying and embarrassing details to a group of strangers and authority figures is a situation that would be agonizing for most adults. So, imagine the trauma a child must go through at that time.

In a courtroom, use of a facility dog could be offered or requested, and a judge would decide if it’s warranted in the case. Experts say the dog would be expected to lay quietly at the witness’ feet, out of sight of the jury. It would be there to provide a calming and reassuring touch to help the witness through the anxiety of that moment.

Lake County has such a dog and is ready to put it to use in courtrooms.

Earlier this year, the state’s attorney’s office obtained Mitchell, a nearly 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever.

While awaiting the anticipated start of his courtroom duties, Mitchell provides similar services in his current assignment at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Gurnee. The center is a division of the state’s attorney’s office that assists in the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving sexual and physical abuse of children.

The dog is available to be with children while they are interviewed by investigators to discuss the trauma they have endured.

Mitchell has been tested during a mock trial, complete with a packed courtroom — he passed with flying colors, officials said.

In the coming weeks, Rauner faces no shortage of tough decisions and negotiations. The state budget mess and other issues will occupy most of his attention, and with good reason.

But signing the facility dog bill into law shouldn’t be delayed for weeks, because there also are plenty of traumatized kids in need of a little comfort at a stressful time.


July 3, 2015

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

No budget, no pay

Illinois could learn a thing or two from the Brits.

The U.K.’s monarch has the ultimate nuclear option should Parliament fail to pass a budget. Queen Elizabeth can simply oust every minister and call an election to replace them. Even the chief executive, the prime minister, is vulnerable should lawmakers undergo the ultimate dereliction of duty. Not only is a missed paycheck or two on the line for British lawmakers. Entire careers could end.

Surprise: The budget is always on time.

There’s no such punishment for incompetence in Illinois, where budget brinkmanship is the state pastime. The General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner have spent weeks lobbing grenades while offering only political lip service. July 1 came and went. And now, Illinois can’t fund many of its operations. But, unlike in Britain, everyone gets paid. The General Assembly even had the gall this spring to try and give itself a pay raise. Rauner rightly vetoed that bit of absurd self-indulgence.

What an embarrassment.

State lawmakers, fueled by a Democrat supermajority, approved cynical, self-serving legislation in the last days of the 2014 spring session assuring they get paid one way or another. State parks might close. But, at least, the do-nothing set won’t go without. Pro-Rauner conservative think tanks were quick to go on attack Wednesday, the day the state officially entered a new fiscal year without a budget.

It’s wholly unjust that, should the impasse continue, rank-and-file state employees could pay the price. Rauner claims he can pay the 65,000 employees stuck in the middle of partisan squabbling. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan - Speaker Mike Madigan’s daughter - says otherwise.

It’s shameful that the poor and elderly would bear the brunt of shuttered services.

It’s unfair that the taxpayer will keep paying into an unsustainable government that bleeds cash and protects the entrenched interests.

Everyone but those running the show stand to lose something.

For his part, Rauner has hinted that he won’t take a paycheck until a new funding plan is in place. Of course, the multi-millionaire can afford it. Few if any state Department of Transportation employees are in the same boat. Rauner shouldn’t have the option. No budget, no pay.

Maybe because of pride or a mutual authoritarian streak, neither Rauner nor Madigan has offered much good faith at the negotiating table.

All the while, backbench lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remain loyal to strategies that will ultimately injure constituents and embarrass the state. No revolts here. Publicly questioning leadership is risky businesses in a system that prefers party to governance. Loyal partisans have nothing to lose.

Consequences get results.


July 2, 2015

Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Maybe freeze will help teach a few lessons

There are epic showdown scenes that stay in your memory forever.

The steel mill battle in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Tony Montana’s killtacular last stand on the balcony in “Scarface” and, thanks to Gov. Bruce Rauner, Wednesday in Springfield.

Things have been a little tense between Rauner’s camp and his detractors for a few months now, as debate over the budget turned to argument over the budget, which turned to neither side making an effort.

Democrats believe Rauner’s proposal would make too many Draconian cuts - probably a fair point. But their response was to propose a spending plan that was nowhere near balanced and called for spending about $4 billion more than was expected in revenue.

That’s the root of the state’s budget mess. Legislators continue to think it’s OK to spend more than is generated to pay the bills. This simply doesn’t work, and it would seem clear by now, which is why Rauner was right to have rejected the plan.

As the state cruised to its July 1 zero hour without a solution in hand, the factions spent the time criticizing each other and blasting out rhetorical sound bites.

But that was nothing compared to what Rauner did Wednesday. He went for the political jugular vein - legislators’ paychecks.

Any chance for a kumbaya moment probably dissipated as Rauner returned Senate Bill 1354, one of a string of budget budget-related bills, and said he would only sign it if lawmakers removed their own cost-of-living increase.

Legislators were scheduled to get an increase of $1,356 to $1,905. The bill also adjusted the amount lawmakers get for mileage to and from Springfield and the per diem pay they get while in session. Rauner wants those costs frozen.

Before bemoaning the state of lawmakers - who likely will challenge the freeze in court and, based on similar attempts in the past, win - consider that members of the state’s General Assembly are paid $68,000 to $95,000 for what is supposed to be a part-time job. On top of that, senators and representatives get $111 a day every day they are in session, making them among the highest-paid legislators in the nation.

Maybe a taste of living within means will help drive a bigger message home.

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