Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
March 17, 2019
The Quincy Herald-Whig
Pritzker making wise staff choices from start
In office for just over two months now, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been hard at work tackling myriad problems facing the state.
Those problems were well-known to the billionaire entrepreneur before he threw his hat into the race, and he campaigned largely on his ability to build successful organizations.
His work is rightly slow-going. While some lawmakers and other media outlets have expressed concern about low staffing levels in the governor’s office, Pritzker has made important strides in building a team of officials to take on the challenge of correcting the state’s course. That is the prerogative executives in government and business enjoy.
Among the first steps Pritzker took was appointing four deputy governors to make sure the state’s various agencies meet goals set forth by the administration and maintain forward progress. The four deputies Pritzker has picked -- Sol Flores will oversee human service agencies, Dan Hynes will oversee budget and economic development, Jesse Ruiz will oversee education and Christian Mitchell will oversee a capital bill and other things -- come to their jobs with impressive track records of success in government and the private sector.
They all were wise and prudent choices, and we applaud the governor for their selection. We also applaud the directive he has given them to allow no bureaucratic barriers to prevent the advancement of progress among the agencies that will answer to them.
Of course, they ultimately will answer to Pritzker. We think his reorganization of the executive branch will streamline processes in a state known for becoming burdened by commissions and committees
The state’s problems can’t be pushed any further down the road. Creating a core leadership group that is able to build a team of administrators and employees who can be productive from the start will reap huge rewards moving forward.
Those appointments are not the only wise picks Pritzker has made. Selecting former state Sen. John Sullivan to lead the Department of Agriculture was a home run. The farmer and former lawmaker knows firsthand the challenges facing farmers today, as well as how to be sure those challenges are addressed in the statehouse.
There clearly was no better choice for that job.
We also applaud the pick of Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat state representative from Aurora and a U.S. Army veteran, to lead the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She is an excellent choice.
We have seen her during visits to the Illinois Veterans Home here, how she interacts with residents and staff and genuinely listens to and cares about what they have to say.
There are a number of much-needed projects on the horizon, and we will need the governor’s support to make them happen.
A new bridge at Quincy, four-laning Ill. 57 south from Quincy to the Interstate 172 interchange, finishing the remaining two lanes for the Macomb Bypass and work on the Mid-America Intermodal Authority Port all are key to the region’s economic success, and support from the new governor would be invaluable.
Pritzker in our meetings seems to think differently than some previous governors. A true entrepreneur, he does not appear to be the party-first-variety Democrat, but rather one who balances his progressive stances with a practical approach.
The state’s future will be rocky with problems and rightly pitted with intense policy debates. While we do not see eye-to-eye with the governor on some policies, we think Pritzker’s wisdom in proceeding cautiously and selectively has set up both his administration and the state for success.
We welcome in good faith the debates ahead, and we look forward to more capable, professional selections to help lead the Land of Lincoln forward.
March 15, 2019
For safety’s sake, repeal the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act
Six years ago, Illinois began enforcing the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, a state law that says parents must be notified when a girl 17 or younger is going to have an abortion.
We thought then that this made sense. Being pregnant is a life-changing experience. Decisions regarding pregnancy for women of any age, let alone for girls, can be heart-wrenching.
We, of course, encourage girls who are pregnant to turn to their parents — assuming they are responsible parents — for guidance and support.
The reality, though, is that not all parents are good parents, so the parental notice law includes an exception: Girls who do not feel they can safely turn to a parent, or who believe they are mature enough to have the procedure without telling a parent, can go to a judge instead, bypassing parental notice.
Six years of experience with the law, unfortunately, tells us that it hasn’t worked. The requirement that a girl go before a judge in some cases has put girls in real danger.
We now support a bill in the Illinois Legislature to rescind the parental notification law. A legislative committee is set to begin discussing the matter on Tuesday.
This was a difficult call for us, for sure. We fully appreciate the gravity of the issue. And, as parents, we would want to know.
But Illinois law recognizes that a pregnant woman or girl, regardless of her age, can decide whether to have a baby, place a baby up for adoption or have an abortion. If a doctor recommends that she have certain medical tests or a cesarean section, it is the girl’s decision whether to do so, not her parents’.
Parental notification of abortion means only that the parent is notified. It does not mean the parent can prohibit the procedure, at least not legally.
For good reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics is opposed to parental notice or consent laws. “Genuine concern for the best interests of minors argues strongly against” such laws, the organization said in a 2017 policy statement.
The AAP contends that parental notification and consent laws can lead to serious harm. “There is evidence,” the group’s policy statement continued, “that such legislation . . . increases the risk of medical and psychological harm to the adolescent.”
About once a week in Illinois, since 2013, a girl has gone before a judge to explain why she cannot tell her parents that she is going to have an abortion. By this point for the girl, she has been counseled by a doctor, as required by a professional code of ethics, and offered guidance by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. The ACLU, which has a 24/7 hotline that girls can turn to for help, provides its services pro bono.
The girls, we are told, often are terrified. But in 99.5 percent of the cases, the ACLU says, the judge agrees that the girl should not have to inform her parents.
In about another 600 cases, the ACLU reports, girls who called the crisis hotline do not make it to court. What happened to them? We would hope they decided they could, in fact, turn to a parent or legal guardian — and we would hope that trust proved justified. It’s reasonable to assume, though, that in many cases there were simply too many obstacles the girl had to overcome to get to court.
Consider all that a girl must do to see a judge:
The court system operates five days a week from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., pretty much the same time the girl is likely to be in school. She might want to tell the judge that she cannot tell her parents about her planned abortion because she fears being thrown out of the house. But if the girl misses school to go to court, the school will notify her parents of her absence. And how does the girl explain her absence?
The girl also must find a way to court. If she’s lucky, there’s a bus. She can’t take Uber or Lyft; those accounts almost always are tied to parents’ credit cards.
In small towns, where everybody knows everybody, the girl might fear being seen at the courthouse by someone who knows her parents.
Even making a call to the ACLU hotline can be problematic. The girl must make the call when her parents aren’t around or, if her parents monitor her cellphone, use someone else’s phone.
We strongly support parental rights, but we equally support the rights of minors to be safe.
It is sometimes said, rather glibly, that if a girl must by law tell her parents when she’s going to get her ears pierced, she should have to tell them when she’s going to get an abortion.
But nobody throws a kid into the street, or worse, for getting her ears pierced.
The Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act fails to protect. It only punishes.
Repeal the law.
March 14, 2019
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Keep the sun shining on public officials
As we finish up Sunshine Week — the annual initiative to promote transparency in government — it’s a good time to remember this: Public information belongs to the people, not the officials charged with keeping that information.
Sunshine Week is dedicated to promoting open government and a time to discuss how vital it is to have access to public information. And while it’s something mainly championed by the media, it’s really a week for citizens.
The state’s Freedom of Information Act lays out what types of information you as a resident have the right to see. The state’s Open Meeting Act lays out how elected officials have to conduct the public’s business (generally speaking, it needs to be out in the open and not behind closed doors).
While we don’t want to paint all public officials with a wide brush, too many of them think information they oversee belongs to them. They are wrong. And if you’ve ever tried to get information from a public body, there’s a good chance you may have encountered some roadblocks in accessing what you are seeking.
The general presumption is, all information is public, but there are legitimate reasons for not sharing information. Private information, for instance, is exempt. You cannot ask for the Social Security numbers or medical records of public employees. Also exempt are records from law enforcement agencies that would interfere with a pending investigation or proceeding. Preliminary notes or drafts are also exempt, and so are business trade secrets or proprietary information that, if disclosed, could harm a person or business. Requests that are “unduly burdensome” also can be denied.
Yet too often, information the public has the right to is still withheld. And frankly, public agencies face few consequences by not releasing that information. So during Sunshine Week, it’s encouraging to note that legislation that would give more teeth to FOIA enforcement has been introduced in the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 1216 would ensure courts issue penalties for every FOIA violation. To issue a penalty right now, a court must find that a public body “willfully and intentionally” failed to comply with FOIA, according to the Better Government Association, a proponent of this legislation. Guess how often that happens? The legislation also would ensure courts issue penalties when a public body ignores a court order regarding a violation. Currently, it’s at the discretion of the court whether to issue one.
The goal here is not for public bodies to spend more money. It is for them to know they will unnecessarily cost taxpayers by not complying with FOIA laws. Penalties haven’t deterred some public bodies because they know it’s unlikely they will have to pay for their lack of transparency.
Unfortunately, the measure introduced by state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, has seen little action. We hope that changes soon. And it’s not the only transparency-friendly item we hope to see the legislature approve this session. Attorney General Kwame Raoul has requested funding in the fiscal year 2020 budget for his office to hire an additional six lawyers, plus two support staff members, to beef up staffing in the Public Access Counselor’s office.
The PAC is the department in the attorney general’s office that helps decide disputes involving the state’s FOIA and OMA. Raoul in 2009 sponsored the legislation that created the PAC. Anyone who doubts the office is needed should read an October 2018 report by ProPublica and the Chicago Sun-Times that found even with the PAC, the public is often shut out from information that rightfully belongs to them.
That report found that the PAC’s staff struggles to get through the thousands of cases it has, often taking months — sometimes years — to resolve them. And when it does, the report found, it “seldom uses its full authority to order government agencies to comply with the laws. And in the rare cases when it does, the office’s orders are sometimes blown off. Violators face few consequences.”
That is unacceptable. Transparency at every level of government is paramount. People should know what their government is doing. Change needs to happen. Lawmakers like Cullerton and Raoul are offering good ideas that need to be implemented. The rest of the General Assembly and Gov. J.B. Pritzker need to follow their lead.