- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. March 25, 2021.

Editorial: Census delays are one more reason for Democrats to loosen control over remapping

Cynics have long said Illinois will give up partisan control of the all-important remapping process when hell freezes over.

Is a worldwide pandemic coupled with widespread natural disasters close enough to that cataclysm? Maybe it is.

That series of unfortunate events is delaying the census, destroying some constitutionally mandated deadlines in Illinois and causing havoc with Illinois Democrats’ plans to dominate map-drawing. We urge them to bow to circumstances and give residents a chance at political maps that are drawn for more fair and equitable representation.



Why are legislative and congressional district boundaries so important? It’s easy for whomever is drawing the maps to give an advantage to favored candidates and a cudgel to others, who can find themselves in unwinnable districts or without districts at all.

Once boundaries are drawn, they don’t change for a decade. The dominant political party — Democrats, in Illinois — gains a 10-year advantage. Years of reformers trying to change that in Illinois, by constitutional amendment, legislative action and citizen petition, have failed.

Enter the pandemic.

A March 31 federal deadline for delivery of 2020 census data is going out the window, with the Census Bureau citing a halt in in-person counting because of COVID-19 as well as difficulty tallying people in areas hit by calamities from hurricanes to wildfires.

This puts Illinois Democrats in a tough spot, as our reporter JJ Bullock wrote this week after lawmakers learned census numbers on which new maps are based will not arrive until at least August.

The Illinois Constitution allows the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to keep control only if it approves legislative maps by June 30. The job then goes to an eight-member bipartisan commission, but that commission has to get it done by Aug. 10. At that point, a ninth member’s name is pulled out of a hat, making him or her the tiebreaker and kingmaker.

That’s nuts.

Illinois lawmakers don’t face the same deadlines on Congressional maps, but a federal voting rights bill would mandate those maps be drawn by independent commissions. It cleared the U.S. House this month.

Democrats are not blind to the problems of partisan maps: Across the country they are decrying gerrymandering in Republican-controlled states like Texas. Those complaints ring hollow if they refuse to end gerrymandering in a state like ours.

Rather than spending time devising ways to keep control, Illinois Democrats should open up how remapping is handled. Naming a bipartisan commission to govern the process would tamp down the impact of the missed state deadlines through a good-faith effort to reach a consensus, no matter when the census numbers come in.

This might be unrealistically optimistic. On the other hand, new Democratic House Speaker Chris Welch and many other state lawmakers have said they are for “fair maps,” and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he’ll veto a gerrymandered map.

It’s time to put some action behind those sentiments.

___

Chicago Tribune. March 24, 2021.

Editorial: Just a cool $35 million to jump-start Gov. Pritzker’s reelection bid

Billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker offered the first tangible sign of his plan for a second term by sending a $35 million check to his campaign fund last week. While he insists he is focusing not on his reelection but on the state’s COVID-19 numbers and other challenges, make no mistake - campaign season has begun.

For Pritzker, the clock ticking toward the November 2022 general election could mean little-to-no chance of a real fix to the state’s weak financial position before then. Why? Politically speaking, politicians with four-year terms generally are advised by their high-priced consultants they have two years to take risks, to do unpopular but necessary things, before easing into ribbon cuttings and less controversial policy leading up to Election Day.

That would be shameful in a state that needs urgent financial reform. This is the year to do it.

Illinois voters sent a clear message during the November 2020 election they are tired of the feverish push from Springfield to constantly raise taxes. Voters said “no” to changing the state’s flat income tax rate to a graduated structure. They were not bamboozled, as Pritzker has suggested. Voters knew exactly what they were doing.

___

Chicago Sun-Times. March 25, 2021.

Editorial: Current policies funnel large number of sex offenders into one building. That needs to change

The state’s job is to balance the needs and rights of ex-offenders with those of all others.

A single building in Englewood, a neighborhood with plenty of struggles, has been home to not one or two or even three registered sex offenders - but to literally dozens.

That strange and - for most Americans - troubling fact came to light recently when people in the neighborhood became aware of, and objected strongly, to one man in particular who had moved into the building who was both a convicted sex offender and convicted murderer.

Every previously incarcerated person who has done their time, paying the price for their crimes, deserves a chance to re-enter society and build a new life. We firmly believe that. But it has to be done in a way that also respects the legitimate fears and worries of the larger community.

Common sense says it is entirely understandable that the people of Englewood - and, really, the residents of any neighborhood - don’t want to live in or near a building that is home to a bizarrely high concentration of convicted sex offenders or other high-level ex-offenders.

How does that go on in the state, whose job it is to balance the needs and rights of ex-offenders with those of all others?

It should not.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) tells us that his first concern was that there was no process to let the community know what was going on at the apartment building. Nor, to his knowledge, was there any monitoring or security at the building, or any programs there for the paroled ex-offenders. The building is not registered as a halfway house or recovery house, according to the police.

Sawyer has been in constant contact with the Chicago Police Department, the city’s building department and the Illinois Department of Corrections, trying to get answers, and he repeatedly has been told the same thing: As long as convicted sex offenders register with the county in which they live and don’t reside within 500 feet of a school, day care center or public park, there’s no prohibition against a large number of them living in one particular building.

Legally, the government can’t interfere with private property and its ownership, Stephen M. Komie, a criminal justice attorney based in Chicago, told us, except of course when it comes to such things like building code violations that raise health and safety concerns.

Sawyer thinks this is nuts. If the State of Illinois can regulate whether an ex-sex offender lives within 500 feet of a grammar school, we’re hard pressed to see why the state can’t find a way to ensure so many offenders can’t live in one building.

“Most people are saying this is still totally legal, and we are saying how? How could this be legal?” Sawyer said. “You got women and children across the hall, not across the street, from a paroled sex offender who quite honestly needs support.”

Adding to the problem, the names of most sex offenders are included on a public registry, for all to see, and while many of these offenders eventually get off the list - generally depending on the severity of their crimes and at the discretion of a judge - others never get off the list. Some of them may no longer be a risk to anybody, but their ability to move on, find a job and a place to live remains a struggle.

If a paroled offender has developed a solid record of good behavior, their case should be reviewed regularly by somebody - a judge or true panel of experts - who is empowered to remove the offender’s name from the registry and erase the scarlet letter.

But that’s not how things work.

“(The current system) is a sledgehammer which is in the hands of bureaucrats, and not in the hands of the judge who actually hears the case,“ Komie said.

Housing restrictions placed upon ex-offenders, as well as their limited ability to land good jobs, push them to live in areas in the city where rent comes cheap and where there are no schools, parks or daycare centers, which rules out much of the metropolis. This has been the case for some time at the Englewood apartment building, but it took the arrival of a particularly high profile ex-offender to bring the problem to the neighborhood’s attention. To avoid a high concentration of them in one place, they need to be provided with clear housing alternatives.

Why, we have to ask, can the state not ensure ex-offenders who have served their time can find housing throughout the Chicago area? Why do we, as a state, allow the problem to fall disproportionately on poorer communities, usually communities of color? Advocates for those registered as sex offenders say one answer would be to reduce the 500-foot limit to 250 feet so they have more places to live and don’t have to congregate in the same areas.

“We shouldn’t warehouse people in one place,” said Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “We ought to have more resources close to the communities where they live so they can help to get back into society. But you can’t be angry at the Englewood neighbors for protesting.”

END

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