Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Bloomington Pantagraph. September 18, 2021.

Editorial: Positive signs at signing

The presence of elected Republicans beside Gov. J.B. Pritzker as a bill signing this week shows sometimes politicians can put people over party.

Pritzker signed into law sweeping energy regulation overhauls, satisfying a campaign goal and pleasing a bunch of partisans. Environmental and social justice activists and union representatives stood with Pritzker as he signed legislation designed to continue impact long after the governor leaves Springfield.

One of the goals is phasing out carbon emissions from the energy sector by 2045.

The signing caps a two-plus-year series of negations and came back from apparent death multiple times. The signing also garnered attention from Washington, D.C., with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm praising the measure in a news release.

Pritzker framed a world picture in his remarks, mentioning Hurricane Ida’s destruction to the South and fires at the Boundary Waters wilderness area in Minnesota. He didn’t mention record high temperatures, West Coast wildfires and other numbing environmental news.

There comes a time to change habits to protect what’s left of our surroundings. This is that time.

It won’t come without a cost, something citizens don’t want to hear when they’re demanding issues be solved. Estimates for the cost of the bill have ranged from $3 to $4 monthly added to ratepayer bills (according to the Citizens Utility Board) to $15 (according to senior advocacy group AARP). Bill sponsor Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, said residential electric bills would increase by about 3-4%, commercial bills by about 5-6% and industrial bills by about 7-8%.

The specific benefit in Central Illinois comes with the electric vehicle portion of the bill. It aims for 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030. It also provides for a $4,000 rebate on an electric vehicle purchase starting in July 2022. Prtizker said the rebate would be available to all Illinoisans.

Not everything is solved. Lawmakers have said follow-up legislation will be considered in the fall veto session to clean up portions of the nearly 1,000-page bill.

Those two Republicans who stood with Pritzker may have been props for the governor’s photo opportunity. They doubtless heard from some of their constituency. But even if that’s a small indicator of bi-partisanship, maybe it shows a sliver of what can be accomplished with other priorities.

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Chicago Tribune. September 20, 2021.

Editorial: When police stop citizens, ‘reasonable and articulable’ suspicion matters

A lawsuit with more than a million plaintiffs?

It boggles the mind to imagine that many people involved in a single lawsuit.

But that’s the potential fallout from U. S. District Judge Andrea Wood’s decision at the end of last month to grant class action status to a lawsuit against the city of Chicago over its police department’s long-standing stop-and-frisk policies.

Wood’s decision puts the case’s six original plaintiffs into a class that lead plaintiff’s attorney Antonio Romanucci has estimated numbers more than a million people.

His calculation was based on police records between 2010 and 2017 that show at least 2 million stops in which officers allegedly had no “reasonable suspicion” that a crime had been or was about to be committed. Plaintiffs’ lawyers believe those include many individuals who were stopped more than once.

The suit seeks financial compensation for the six named plaintiffs and court-ordered changes in the department’s policies and practices under the oversight of a federal judge.

There will not be damages or any other financial award for the million or more members of the class who had been wrongfully stopped, the lawyers pointed out, which must have come as a relief to cash-strapped city officials.

The lawsuit was filed as the city continues its efforts to implement police reforms required by the consent decree it voluntarily entered with the Justice Department back in 2019.

The controversial policy allows police officers to stop, interrogate and search citizens on the sole basis of “reasonable suspicion,” a rationale that attempts compliance with the Fourth Amendment’s bar against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

How “reasonable”? In 2013, then-federal appeals court Judge Shira Scheindlin found that New York City’s police routinely violated the constitutional rights of citizens by stopping people without sufficient grounds — and unfairly targeting Blacks and Latinos.

As a policy, stop-and-frisk dates to the 1968 Supreme Court decision of Terry v. Ohio, which gave birth to the nickname “Terry stops” for such police-civilian encounters.

It granted the power to constitutionally stop or potentially frisk a person, patting down their outer clothing, if the officer has a “reasonable and articulable” suspicion the person is involved in criminal activity or is armed and dangerous.

But, significantly, there’s no mention of race. Reasonable suspicion cannot constitutionally be triggered by the race of an individual alone.

That became glaringly apparent in March 2015, when a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois revealed some jaw-dropping news. Chicagoans were stopped at a rate more than four times higher than the rate in New York — and Black people were stopped at a higher rate than whites and Latinos, especially in mostly white areas of the city.

But how many of those cases were warranted? The ACLU’s analysis of 250 justifications provided by officers found they had failed to record legally sufficient reasons in half of the cases.

That’s unacceptable. As a minimum, police officers who stop and question anyone on the street should be able to provide an acceptable justification.

As then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy — who, like many other police officials, preferred the labels “investigative stops” and “protective pat-downs” to “stop-and-frisk” — observed at the time, “If we’re not articulating our reasonable suspicion, we’ve got a problem.”

Fortunately, reasonable minds at the Police Department and ACLU averted a threatened lawsuit in 2015 by working out a plan to address the problems. The result was a voluntary accord, reached without litigation or a court decree.

Under the deal, police agreed to undergo training to stop people only when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct and pat them down only when there is similarly reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous.

Police also agreed to keep better records of every stop and commit to new efforts to avoid racial profiling.

But that process continues between CPD and the ACLU on a track entirely separate from that of the class action lawsuit, although they have similar policy-changing aims.

As Chicago continues to battle against a wave of violent crime terrorizing its neighborhoods, the need for “investigative stops” in targeted situations should not be in dispute. The city is mired in a public safety crisis, and police need that crucial tool. But these stops should be handled and documented in a way that doesn’t make our crime problems worse.

Decades of careless dragnet practices have alienated police from the people they are sworn to serve, particularly in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Reasonable and articulable suspicion is not a negotiable requirement, lest police inflame passions in the wrong direction and compound the very problem they are trying to solve.

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Chicago Sun-Times. September 19, 2021.

Editorial: It’s not a democracy if the votes don’t count

Challenges to one-person one-vote are everywhere. It’s up to every American to fight the nonsense and stand up for fair elections.

Throwing the rascals out is an American political tradition.

The voters won’t be able to throw the rascals out for much longer, though, if democracy gets upended to the point that the electorate no longer has the power to change its government.

It’s a real risk. Putting decisive thumbs on the scale is the goal of too many people who are too close to creating a system in which party apparatchiks can overturn election results they don’t like. Make no mistake: If you think those apparatchiks will overturn elections in your favor, you’ll be in for a surprise when it goes the other way. By then, there will be no recourse.

Anti-voting scams everywhere

The challenges to one-person one-vote are everywhere.

In Arizona, QAnon conspiracy theorist Mark Finchem, with Donald Trump’s backing, is running for secretary of state and the chance to wield broad power over elections. Finchem was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but he won’t release texts and other communications to show whether he entered the building. He’s not alone in his disdain for voters. At least nine Republican Senate candidates have filed or actively supported one of the baseless lawsuits that claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law on Sept. 7 that makes it harder to obtain mail-in ballots, prohibits drop boxes to turn in those ballots, limits early voting times and eliminates drive-through voting. Democrats fled the state capital for weeks in a failed effort to block the bill.

In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers last week approved subpoenas for a wide range of data and personal information on voters, which looks an awful lot like a way to undermine democracy and intimidate voters. Whatever happened to the idea of a secret ballot?

In Georgia, Republicans enacted a law in March that gives state-level Republicans the ability to take over county vote-counting machinery, which would allow them to tip future presidential and congressional elections their way. The law gives state-level officials the power to do what Trump wanted to do in 2020: make decisions after the fact about which votes will be counted. Other states have rushed to enact similar laws.

Everyone remembers how Trump tried to get Georgia’s secretary of state to “recalculate” vote totals to “find” enough votes for him. Laws such as Georgia’s will make that possible, and with officials such as Finchem in power, should he win, who can doubt those laws will be put into practice?

Other nations that admire American democracy can only watch, aghast.

Repressive laws in 18 states

Meanwhile, more than 400 bills have been introduced across the nation to make it harder for targeted populations to vote. In July, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that 18 states had enacted 30 laws making it harder to vote. The Voting Rights Lab says 184 bills in 39 states would shift the allocation of power in the administration of elections.

According to an upcoming book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, then-Vice President Mike Pence was actually pondering whether to certify President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump until he talked to former Vice President Dan Quayle, who said, “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

Besides the new laws, some politicians are encouraging “poll watchers” to be disruptive, to intimidate poll workers and voters. More people also are willing to threaten violence. How many election workers who take on the task only out of a sense of civic duty will be willing to work from 5 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night even as someone is making threatening calls to their children? But if they quit, there’s a very real fear they could be replaced with workers whose agenda is to tilt an election.

No wonder most Americans — 56% — feel democracy is under attack in this country. according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.

Freedom to Vote Act

One lifeline for democracy is the Freedom to Vote Act, which was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday. It contains provisions to safeguard future elections tampering. Every state would be required to have automatic voter registration. It would limit the ability of political parties to box voting minorities into convoluted districts through partisan gerrymandering, overturn a recent Supreme Court ruling on how provisional ballots can be counted and roll back newly passed laws that make voting by mail harder. All eligible citizens could request mail-in ballots and have access to secure drop-off boxes.

Democracy is hanging on by a thread. Our nation needs to rebuild a consensus that elections must be fair — putting the means before the ends. All of America should rally to defend a form of government that has made this nation great.

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