Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. April 12, 2021.

Editorial: Those rules that got waived for the pandemic? Let’s get rid of them

Once a law or regulation is in place, it’s usually hard and time-consuming to remove. But when the pandemic shut down much of normal life last year, lawmakers showed they could move quickly in a crisis.

In June, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails for takeout, and the Chicago City Council soon followed with its own measure. It was an effort to help these establishments survive — but also a gesture of respect for the freedom of citizens. This month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker followed that up by signing legislation authorizing delivery of wine and spirits by services such as DoorDash and Grubhub.

And guess what? It worked out just fine for bars and restaurants and their customers, without causing drunken bacchanals in the streets. Most people handle alcohol responsibly, and being allowed to pick up mixed drinks didn’t cause them to act out.

COVID-19 brought a lot of changes that Americans are eager to put behind them. But it also had the useful consequence of causing the public and elected officials to reconsider some of the laws and regulations that had long been taken for granted. Some of those rules were changed — and what we’ve learned in the past year makes the case for keeping many of those changes.

Before the pandemic, anyone seeking medical care was obliged to go to a doctor’s office. But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a public health emergency, Medicare and Medicaid began reimbursing providers for telehealth visits, and private insurers largely followed suit. Between March and October, The Wall Street Journal reports, 24.5 million Medicare patients took advantage of the change.

Virtual consultations and treatment have expanded options for both medical professionals and patients. They have been shown to work well, saving patients time and travel expenses while protecting them and their providers from exposure to COVID-19, not to mention colds and flu.

Most states have also permitted telehealth visits across state lines in some circumstances. Illinois allowed doctors with previous relationships with a patient to provide virtual care from out of state.

Once the pandemic has subsided, there is every reason that telehealth should be expanded and retained as a way to deliver care and counseling. It was only hidebound resistance to change that stymied it before.

Anyone who ever needed a document notarized knows the hassle of having to find and visit a notary public who could personally provide a stamp of approval. That requirement was loosened by one of Pritzker’s emergency executive orders last spring, allowing notarization to be done remotely using audio and video links, under rules designed to prevent fraud. Making the change permanent, which would require new legislation, sounds like a good idea.

The Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, recommends additional reforms, notably a bill that would make the state part of the Nursing Licensure Compact. It would mean licensed nurses from 34 other states that are part of the compact could practice here without having to get an Illinois license.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, was recently approved by a committee. IPI’s vice president, Amy Korte, says it would not only ease a nursing shortage but “help alleviate the long shifts and exhaustion nurses have faced during the past year, while also opening up career and volunteer opportunities for Illinois nurses.”

Over the past year, people in Illinois and elsewhere have been forced to reassess how they do things. The pandemic has fostered reforms in public policy that couldn’t have been arranged before. Many of those have proved their value, and we ought to keep them.

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Chicago Sun-Times. April 12, 2021.

Editorial: Time for a fresh look at plans to sell the Thompson Center

The state must face that it may not get $200 million for the building. And to increase its redevelopment possibilities, reusing the building — not tearing it down — should remain an option.

It all seemed so simple four years ago.

The state would sell the iconic James R. Thompson Center to a developer, rid itself of a building that had become a deferred maintenance nightmare, get a shiny new skyscraper built on the site — and rake in a cool $200 million for the effort.

Then the pandemic changed everything.

Yet the Pritzker administration is forging ahead as if nothing has happened, taking steps to sell the building, aided by Ald. Brendan Reilly’s move last month to upzone the site to allow a taller structure, which would sweeten the pot for potential developers.

Given Chicago’s seismic economic and real estate shifts of late, we’d urge caution regarding selling the Thompson Center.

A complicated site

We’ve supported the state’s longstanding desire to get out from under the financial and operational burden of the Thompson Center. State officials say getting rid of the building would spare them from having to spend $300 million to repair the building.

But that’s no reason not to conduct a clear-eyed reexamination of the plan right now and make sure this solution is the best for the city, and not one that just takes the state off the hook.

We’re having a tough time, for instance, imagining a developer at this point paying the state $200 million for the building and then incurring the added costs of razing the 17-story structure, with its subterranean levels and basements.

The challenge of pulling down the building and erecting a new one is further complicated by a city requirement that the Clark/Lake L stop — downtown’s busiest and accessed from the Thompson Center — remains open during demolition and construction. Same for the Blue Line station beneath the building.

If we’re looking at this deal with an eye toward history — and in doing so, we’re reminded of the long years of unrealized grand plans for Block 37 on State Street — we have to at least raise the possibility that the state will have to convey the building to a developer on the cheap, if not for free, in order to spark new development there. This gives us pause.

So does the fate of the former Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building, 300 W. Washington St. The 17-story 1927 building was wrecked in 2003 — and that was when the economy was good — and was supposed to be replaced by a taller skyscraper.

Instead, the site has been a vacant lot for almost 20 years.

Patient public process needed

Ald. Reilly’s proposal to upzone the Thompson Center site to allow for a development of up to 2 million square feet does, though, open the door wider to something potentially beneficial happening there. A developer could put up a building as big and high as the 40-story Chase Tower, depending on the configuration.

Christine Carlyle, principal and director of planning for the Chicago architecture firm SCB, tells us she could image a distinctly designed mixed-use building that features restaurants along Randolph Street and four active sides, whereas the Thompson Center really offers only one major point of interaction with the surrounding streets.

“I think it’s a place where you want to make sure (a new building) is done with a kind of character,” she said. “There is more of an opportunity for a more iconic (building) ... and not to have it bulked out, but to give it some shape.”

Carlyle is right. And if a new building on the site is a must, City Hall must insist on a design process that is patient, public and bull-headed enough to make this happen.

We also believe the state should take advantage of this lull in the local economy to broaden the number of suitors and possibilities for the site by making an imaginative reuse of the Thompson Center — not just tearing it down — a serious option.

The state already is in the process of moving employees from the Thompson Center to a newly purchased West Loop building, which is unsurprising. Nobody is seriously talking about the state hanging on to Thompson Center.

But that means the clock is ticking.

And the last thing Chicago’s Loop needs is for the Thompson Center to become an empty glass tomb waiting years for a suitor.

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Champaign News-Gazette. April 11, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois’ off-year elections are a monumental failure

It was another putrid election day in Champaign County, one marked more by voter indifference than anything else.

Voting is sacred. All must be encouraged to participate in the democratic process. Anything short of that sacred goal is voter suppression that must, itself, be suppressed.

That has to be bunk. If it wasn’t, last week’s non-election would never have happened. But it did, and the low turnout reflected the rule, not the exception, which raises a question.

Why does this state schedule elections when those in charge know there will be pathetic turnouts?

Well, they just do. Besides, shut up.

The numbers don’t lie. The Champaign County Clerk’s Office reports that of roughly 122,000 eligible voters in the county, only about 15,000 cast ballots in Tuesday’s municipal, park and school board elections.

Contrast that to the turnout in November’s presidential election, when more than 80,000 county residents cast ballots.

Obviously, federal and state elections are much higher-profile than a local race for mayor or city council. The public, naturally, pays much more attention to them than to other contests for a variety of reasons.

But considering that local races matter, too, look at some of the results from Tuesday’s city council races in Champaign-Urbana.

Congratulations to Davion Williams on his election to the council from District 1 in Champaign. But he ought not to kid himself about being the people’s choice, because he received all of 111 votes, according to the unofficial returns.

Compared to Williams, District 3 winner Danny Iniguez is a veritable man of the people. He received 280 votes compared with runner-up Matt Sullard’s 225.

In Urbana, Democrat Christopher Evans was elected alderman for Ward 2 with 67 votes.

Other contests, of course, drew larger turnouts because they covered larger geographic areas. But in the overall context, turnout was still minuscule.

It is, of course, not the candidates’ fault that they ran into a wall of indifference. They invested their time and energy in running, a challenge that never should be minimized.

They must wonder why the public cares so little about what they consider so important.

Many, of course, will be tempted to express disdain for those who have shown they have virtually no interest in how and who runs their city governments, schools and parks.

But respect for process of self-government ought to require more than a thumb in the eye of the disinterested.

If Champaign County voters can elect their county board members in primary and general elections in even years, why can’t they elect their city council and school board members in those same elections?

What is so special about these off-year elections that they must be held at times that have shown themselves to be an undeniable failure?

The permanent political class must have a special motive for overseeing this gross disservice to the public. In a state as corrupt as Illinois, there’s usually a selfish reason for consistently embracing a moronic public policy like this.

It’s well past time for a change — align the primary and general municipal elections now held in off-years with the primary and general elections held in even years.

The insiders would hate it and vehemently oppose it. But if voting really is as important as adherents argue, why not schedule most, if not all, the state’s elections at a time that will draw the broadest participation?

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