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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

September 11, 2018

Sept. 9, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Can’t just take person’s word

It was just four months ago when screaming headlines revealed that another member of the General Assembly was the target of sexual-harassment accusations.

This time it was state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a member of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s leadership team. After the accusations, Lang stepped down from his leadership post and two key committees involving ethics and rule-making.

But he professed innocence and predicted he would be cleared of what he called “absurd” misconduct charges. Lang characterized his accuser as a disgruntled medical-marijuana lobbyist who was angry because she was unable to win a license for a medical-marijuana dispensary in Plainfield.

Last week, Julie Porter, the acting legislative inspector general, issued a report that concluded the allegations against Lang were unfounded.

The initial charges made against him by lobbyist Maryann Loncar seemed like a stretch. But whether they are true or not, the report’s conclusion was almost a virtual certainty after Loncar refused to submit to an interview with the inspector general.

Loncar defended her decision not to participate in the investigation because she suspected it was not on the up and up, just a public-relations display on the road to clearing Lang of her charges.

She’s entitled to her opinion, but refusing to back up the comments she made at a widely publicized press conference by submitting to an interview is the surest way there is to guarantee an accused person will be cleared.

This is the second time that Porter has issued an inspector general’s report investigating sexual-harassment allegations against a legislator.

The first concerned soon-to-be-former Chicago state Sen. Ira Silverstein. A suburban woman charged that Silverstein became romantically interested in her after he volunteered to help her pass a piece of legislation she was promoting.

Again, Porter found no evidence of sexual harassment. But she concluded that Silverstein was guilty of conduct unbecoming of a member of the Legislature, a conclusion that did Silverstein no good. All the adverse publicity pretty much guaranteed that he would be crushed in the March Democratic primary, as he was. His legislative career appears to be over.

The Lang and Silverstein accusations were just a part of a sexual-harassment contagion that also cost Madigan his chief of staff and a valued campaign worker. Other fallout included a requirement that all legislators undergo training on how to conduct themselves properly when dealing with lobbyists, constituents or fellow legislators of the opposite sex.

There’s no denying that these kinds of he said, she said accusations are difficult to resolve. It’s one thing if there’s solid evidence, and quite another if there’s not.

The accusers in the Silverstein and Lang cases both seemed to think that they should be automatically believed based on their willingness to stand up and speak out.

But it’s one thing to make an appeal that resonates with the voters, as was the case with Silverstein, and quite another when it comes to an unbiased inquiry conducted by an experienced investigator.

In the latter case, the accuser must show up or forfeit credibility.

At the same time, legislators need to make sure their conduct is above board in all instances. To do otherwise in the current climate is to take a risk that has the potential to exact a high cost.

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Sept. 7, 2018

The Ottawa Times

The more education on homelessness, the better

Every year around this time, we report the area’s homeless shelters are opening for the season.

We also typically report statistics related to the Public Action to Deliver Shelter facilities, which may or may not go unnoticed by readers.

They shouldn’t.

These numbers tell a very important story about our communities. Some years the number of people using the shelters may be higher and some years lower. Are more families staying at the shelter? What’s the length of their stay? Are they able to find employment?

Some of the people staying at the shelter may have been your neighbor. Perhaps a co-worker.

Do the numbers reflect the local, state and national economies?

This season, Ottawa PADS, which has the capacity to temporarily house 54 individuals, opened early on Aug. 15. The demand for services in Ottawa has been increasing over the last few years, including a growing number of families. To meet the increased need, the shelter opened 15 days earlier this season in time for the start of the school year.

The number of families with children who have sought shelter has quadrupled since 2007 and doubled since last year. The Peru shelter also is expanding to meet the demand. Peru PADS, with the capacity to house 24 individuals, opened Labor Day weekend.

Last season, IV PADS served 349 individuals including 58 children. In total, 31,106 meals were provided along with countless hours of case management. Executive Director Carol Alcorn anticipates another busy year. On opening day in Ottawa, 18 individuals registered at the shelter. Within two weeks, the number increased to 42 individuals including 12 children.

Some homeless individuals remain at IV PADS for a short time and others take a bit longer to get back on their feet. In the past two weeks, one family and one individual have already located housing and seven individuals have secured employment.

On a related positive note, Alcorn believes PADS will be helping more people find jobs and a residence in the coming year.

“The economy is doing better so we are looking forward to experiencing more individuals finding employment and housing,” she explained.

This will be the 27th season of PADS serving the homeless of the Illinois Valley, and unfortunately, we don’t see the number of people utilizing the shelters dropping.

Along with Peru’s expansion, a new resale shop - Lily Pads Too - is opening in Ottawa to help assist the homeless and earn income to assist the shelters. A Lily Pads Boutique also is located in Peru.

We see a need for more community education about homelessness in the area: What are the challenges for the homeless? What types of mental health assistance is available? Is there a correlation between crime rates and homeless numbers in our communities?

Last year, the free Peace and Justice Speaker Series at Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa planned a panel discussion focused on homelessness awareness and the challenges faced by homeless individuals both locally and statewide.

We encourage more events like this.

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Sept. 8, 2018

The (Decatur) Herald & Review

Illinois is losing too many college students to other states. Why you need to care.

Finally there’s some movement.

The University of Illinois is taking a significant step by offering free in-state tuition to more families who need financial help. We hope steps like this are repeated across the state, plugging what amounts to a years-long brain drain.

It is needed. The steady attrition of college students to other states is a hidden exodus.

We’ve written plenty about the others hitting the road - the exasperated residents fed up with the second-highest property taxes in America, the business-owners saddled with surging workers comp costs, the companies that can’t stomach the burdens.

States with progressive tax structures, balanced budgets and pro-growth strategies are more than happy to roll out the red carpet to one and all.

Our population has constricted so much that there’s a very real hazard a congressional seat will be stripped away after the next U.S. census.

Students leave for similar financial reasons. U of I’s tuition has a long-standing reputation for being high. Other state schools face similar P.R. problems about costs -- some fair, many not.

Either way, the Illinois Board of Higher Education estimates the number of Illinois first-year students enrolling outside our borders jumped more than 60 percent between 2000 and 2014.

Our state schools deserve better. Each one has a reason to be proud, and many are world-class institutions.

Instead, students are being lured away by aggressive recruiting and financial perks that lessen loans or the load on parents. Who could blame them?

Like those taxpayers and companies who bolted, many students never come back. Not all, but many. They find friends and connections. They get jobs after graduation and set down roots and open checking accounts. They get new license plates that don’t have Abe Lincoln. They stop being Illinoisans. Gone.

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