Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. November 13, 2022.

Editorial: Illinois Democrats in charge; Republicans in wilderness

Election Day results again demonstrated continued one-party control of state government.

Predictions of a vast Republican red wave sweeping the nation turned out to be so much hot air.

But expectations of the traditional Democratic blue wave arrived on schedule Tuesday in Illinois. Actually, it was not even a wave, it was just the way the political waters flow here.

Continuing a trend that began in 2002, when Gov. Rod Blagojevich was first elected, Democrats won all statewide offices plus supermajorities in the state House and Senate and an expanded majority on the Illinois Supreme Court.

As thrilling as that lopsided victory may be to Democrats, it was just an extension of what is and will remain the political status quo.

Republicans may elect a few state legislators here and there, but a superminority they are and will remain.

Why? The answer is simple.

A substantial majority of Illinois voters prefer Democrats. That political reality, combined with ruthless legislative and judicial district gerrymandering, guaranteed Tuesday’s sweep.

That presents significant challenges.

How will Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislative Democrats deal with success? How will Republicans handle failure?

With power comes responsibility, and Illinois Democrats have a monopoly on both. But a political party is composed of competing factions that will have to work out their public-policy differences.

With no power, Springfield Republicans should endeavor to offer policy alternatives and use their limited public platform to draw public attention. But when not insulted, they’ll be ignored. They are the political equivalent of the Washington Generals, a team destined always to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Governing — even in a dominant one-party setting — is difficult, especially in a state facing as many long-term financial problems as Illinois does.

So far, Pritzker and Democratic legislators have been able to paper over the state’s short-term financial woes with massive infusions of federal coronavirus relief aid and revenue generated by a growing post-lockdown economy.

But federal aid is coming to an end, and there are concerns of a coming recession.

Democrats also are holding a hot potato in the form of the SAFE-T Act, which abolishes the cash-bail system Jan. 1. The problem means nothing to them post-election, but it’s important to a public concerned about violent crime.

Pritzker has promised changes. But he’ll face some opposition within his own party — how much remains to be seen.

There will be other important issues — some known and others driven by events. Democratic legislators are bursting with ideas that will test the limits of budget realities.

As for Republicans, even a long look in the mirror might be futile. But they could start with a cessation of their internal arguments about who is most ideologically pure, work to build the party from the ground up and search for quality candidates.

But here’s their problem in a nutshell: GOP candidates for governor and attorney general never had a chance this year because they were perceived as too extreme.

At the same time, outstanding GOP candidates like Tom Demmer (treasurer) and Dan Brady (secretary of state) never had a chance either, because they are Republicans running in a Democratic state.

The ball is — and will remain — in the Democrats’ corner.

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Chicago Tribune. November 16, 2022.

Editorial: First step in fixing the SAFE-T Act? Leave partisan pettiness at the door.

Illinois’ embattled SAFE-T Act is a prime example of well-intentioned legislation hijacked by petty politics, emanating from both sides of the aisle.

The legislation ambitiously aims to make criminal justice in Illinois more equitable and law enforcement more accountable. Its length — 700-plus pages — reflects its scope.

And yet, despite the act’s volume and weighty mission, Democrats who control Springfield put the measure on a rocket sled through the House and Senate in January 2021, leaving Republicans little time to read, process and debate the bill. After middle-of-the-night passage in the Senate, the legislation sped to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. He signed it and — whoosh! — it became law.

Since then, Republicans have been just as guilty of partisan gamesmanship. They ginned up reams of misinformation about what the SAFE-T Act does and doesn’t do.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey likened the law to “the Purge,” a reference to a series of dystopian movies in which all crime in America is legalized for 12 hours. State Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, who will step down as House Republican leader following the GOP’s dismal showing in the midterms, wrote in a September op-ed we published that the new law will “give drug cartels free rein on Illinois’ streets.” Conservative-funded fake newspaper handouts and mailings screamed that, with the law’s switch to a cashless bail system, “it’s going to be literally the end of days.”

“The sky is falling” was a lousy tactic that didn’t work for Illinois Republicans in the midterms, an indication that perhaps millions of voters didn’t believe their histrionics about murder suspects suddenly flooding the streets on Jan. 1, the day the cashless provision of the new law takes effect.

Nevertheless, even Democrats acknowledge the law needs adjustments, which is why the SAFE-T Act will become a focal point of the General Assembly’s veto session that began Tuesday.

For lawmakers to get it right this time, here’s what must happen:

· There’s a glaring need to revise which defendants can be released on their own recognizance. We have previously cited concerns state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat, has raised that repeat offenders and individuals accused of a violent crime while also in possession of a gun can still be granted pretrial release, under current SAFE-T language. Now’s her chance to get fellow lawmakers on board with changing this provision so that its focus is primarily on defendants accused of nonviolent crimes.

The purpose of switching to cashless bail is to instill equity into a system that up until now was grossly unfair to defendants charged with nonviolent crimes and locked up in pretrial detention solely because they lacked the means to post bail. That’s an important and necessary linchpin to the SAFE-T Act. But the legislation needs to strike a balance between ensuring that those defendants are treated equitably by the system, and ensuring violent-crime defendants don’t pose a palpable risk to their alleged victims and the public at large.

· The way the law is crafted now, prosecutors have to prove that a defendant is planning to intentionally flee prosecution in order for a judge to order that person’s pretrial detention. Prosecutors cannot solely rely on a defendant’s previous history of not showing up in court as the basis for the judge’s determination that the person is a flight risk. This provision needs fixing. Previous history of not showing up in court is a strong indicator of what that defendant will do again. And requiring prosecutors to prove intent to flee is an unrealistic ask.

· Before the SAFE-T Act, if someone was trespassing on your property, you could call police and have them arrested on a misdemeanor charge. Under the new law, the most police can do is hand the offender a ticket, if that person doesn’t pose a threat to the community. There’s no mechanism to get the offender to leave. This provision needs revision. Officers should have the discretion to size up the situation, and if warranted, make an arrest.

· Another troubling provision of the law allows defendants to ask the judge to compel the alleged victim to appear at a detention hearing, a proceeding in which the judge determines whether to detain the defendant ahead of trial. Especially in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse, appearances at pretrial proceedings can add to the trauma the victim has endured. It’s certainly possible, perhaps even likely, that the victim will end up testifying during the trial. But needlessly heaping more anguish on that person by making them appear at a pretrial hearing doesn’t make sense.

This isn’t a complete list of fixes needed for the SAFE-T Act, but it’s a good start.

The legislation’s mission is a worthy one. It shores up police accountability, which is necessary for communities, particularly predominantly minority neighborhoods, to regain trust in law enforcement. It addresses the injustice of low-income defendants charged with lesser crimes languishing in pretrial detention, while wealthier suspects avoid pretrial detention because they can afford bail, even if the crimes they are charged with are violent offenses.

But a worthy mission has to be backed up by strong, sound and thoughtful implementation. That takes time, debate, collaboration and consensus.

State lawmakers can get this right, if they set aside partisan pettiness and make equitable, efficient criminal justice reform their singular aim.

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Chicago Sun-Times. November 19, 2022.

Editorial: Illinois must ensure foster kids get timely health care

The top Medicaid contractor in Illinois isn’t getting it done.

The state of Illinois might be correct when it says not all foster parents are particularly cooperative in getting medical care for the children in their care, but that doesn’t let the state off the hook. It’s up to the state to make sure foster children, who are its responsibility, are getting the attention they need.

In a story published recently in the Sun-Times, David Jackson and Rachel Hinton of the Better Government Association’s Illinois Answers Project reported that Centene Corp., the top Medicaid contractor in Illinois, isn’t getting it done when it comes to making sure thousands of children are getting basic medical care, from dental visits to immunizations to well-being checks.

As a result, some foster parents of abused and neglected children in the YouthCare program have to wait months for appointments. Some even pay medical bills out of their own pockets and hope for reimbursement.

That’s not what a smoothly working health care system looks like.

The onus should not fall on the shoulders of foster parents. Centene is responsible for ensuring it meets the goals spelled out in its contract. The claim by state officials that things are getting better and that it’s hard to get in touch with some families is not reassuring. Overcoming those kinds of challenges is part of the responsibility Centene took on when it signed up to do the job.

Centene is no stranger to controversy. In October, the Illinois Department of Insurance announced a $1.25 million fine for a subsidiary of Centene for violating the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Network Adequacy and Transparency Act. In August, consumers in states including Illinois sued Centene and the subsidiary, saying they were overcharged for plans that didn’t deliver promised benefits.

A Centene spokesman told the Illinois Answers Project the company is improving its metrics.

Centene and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services haven’t established benchmarks — after two years — on the level of care for such things as frequency of doctor visits and psychological assessments. DHFS said it expects those benchmarks to be in place by the end of this year.

That’s overdue. Families need the care now. The state should make sure they get it.

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