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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

March 5, 2019

March 3, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times

Over time, small steps can make big difference in reducing gun violence

Reformers in Congress who want to reduce gun violence are playing the long game.

That’s why lawmakers in the U.S. House last week sent two major gun bills to the Senate, though the bills are almost sure to die there.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would expand gun-buyer background checks to gun show sales, online sales and private sales.

On Thursday, the House approved legislation that would give the government more time to conduct background checks, closing a loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to buy a firearm before the 2015 mass shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

By pushing the bills, gun law reformers hope to keep up a sense of urgency and open the door to bills that have less lofty aims. This would include legislation introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., for example, to require the surgeon general to give Congress a yearly report on how gun violence affects public health.

Such small gains count as victories in Washington, with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House.

Should another national tragedy involving guns unfold that stirs the public to demand tougher gun laws, reformers want to have a number of House-approved bills queued up in the Senate, ready for a quick vote.

And by passing important gun bills, the House is setting the stage for a national debate about gun violence in the 2020 elections.

Meanwhile in Illinois, lawmakers are drawing up several sensible bills, including legislation pushed by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart — expected to be introduced in Springfield soon — that would help get guns out of the hands of people who have had their Firearm Owners Identification cards revoked. By law, such people are supposed to give up their FOID cards and guns, but typically they do not.

As of the end of December, there were 6,030 cases in Illinois in which a FOID card had been revoked — because the holder had committed a felony, was mentally ill or had had an order of protection entered against them — but failed to give up their cards and guns. Statewide, the non-compliance rate is an estimated 75 percent.

Convicted felon Gary Martin recently highlighted the flaws, Dart has said. Last month, Martin killed five coworkers and wounded five officers at an Aurora warehouse because he was enraged over being fired. He had a handgun even though his state firearm licenses were revoked.

Dart’s bill would authorize the creation of regional law enforcement units to recover illegally held guns, and require State Police to turn over information from a database called the Firearms Transfer Inquiry Program. Then local police would know how many times a person with a revoked FOID had purchased a gun.

Dart’s bill also would increase penalties for noncompliance from a Class A misdemeanor, which often isn’t prosecuted, to a Class 4 felony, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Small steps? Yes. And entirely reasonable.

The wonder is that the gun lobby would oppose even this.

___

March 1, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Chicago voters face an unprecedented choice in the race for mayor

The earth didn’t shake after all the votes were counted in the city of Chicago’s 14-candidate mayoral primary election. Nonetheless, the results were groundbreaking for a city where the Democratic Party political machine usually picks the winners and losers.

Two black women — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot — came out on top.

How the times are changing, particularly on the demographics front. Chicago has had black mayors before — Harold Washington, most prominently — and it’s had a female mayor — Jane Byrne. But it has never had a general mayoral election where no matter how people vote, a black woman will emerge triumphant.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle have more than race in common. Both are uber liberals, so zealous in their views that they were arguing the day after the election over who was the most “progressive,” meaning liberal.

But there is a big difference between the two — Lightfoot is the reformer who wants to smash the corrupt political status quo that has dominated Chicago politics for decades. Preckwinkle is a conventional, up-from-the-ranks political loyalist who’s made her peace over the years with municipal power brokers, including indicted Alderman Ed Burke.

There’s no question that the city’s elite faces a conundrum in choosing between the two. Maybe, figuring all is lost, the power brokers will sit the election out. Maybe they’ll try to strike a deal with one or the other. If so, it will be a deal to limit their losses, not to consolidate gains.

This election was a strange one from the start.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a consummate self-serving politician, wanted to seek a third term. But he became unelectable after his prominent role in the attempted cover-up of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald became scandalously public.

After Emanuel pulled out, the political scrum was on — virtually everyone and their sister decided to go for the brass ring. The group included William Daley (son of Mayor Daley I and brother of Mayor Daley II), state Comptroller Susana Mendoza and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas. The list goes on and on. So many candidates got in that it was clear none would get a big slice of the vote.

Lightfoot received 17.4 percent (93,302 votes), and Preckwinkle received 16.06 percent (86,057 votes). Daley came in a close third with 14.69 percent (78,722 votes).

Those low totals make it difficult to draw strong conclusions about how the April 2 general election will turn out. Preckwinkle appears to be the favorite, given her extensive political ties and organization. That includes her current role not just as county board president but as chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Indeed, if Preckwinkle is successful, she would be the first person to hold the mayor’s office and the party-leader post simultaneously since Mayor Richard J. Daley — aka Mayor Daley I.

That status, however, brings plenty of baggage. She’s got to wipe the stink of Burke off her shoes. Then there’s her unflagging support for former county Assessor Joseph Berrios, one of the most corrupt and incompetent public officials ever to hold office in Cook County.

Demonstrating that their tolerance for corruption is not unlimited, Democratic voters threw Berrios out of office in the March 2018 primary.

The other monkey wrench thrown into political prognostication gears is turnout.

Just 34.11 percent of eligible voters cast ballots Tuesday — 539,550 out of 1,581,755.

What happens next month in Chicago is important, but not just for Chicago. The Windy City dominates the state, both in politics and economics.

Unfortunately, the city is a financial basket case, just like the state.

Many years of poor financial decision-making have laid the groundwork for the hard times ahead. The eventual winner won’t be able to do much about that.

___

March 3, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

SIUC gets much-needed boost with nursing announcement

In 1983, country singer Anne Murray released an irony-filled song titled, “We Sure Could Use a Little Good News Today.”

The song could have been written about the recent travails of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The only news coming out of Carbondale in the past few years has been negative. The enrollment decline continues. Budget woes force staff and program cuts. Scandal plagues the school’s administration.

But, today, complete with its good news arrived Tuesday when the university announced plans for a nursing school had been approved. The school will offer a bachelor of science degree in nursing, the degree most coveted by healthcare facilities today.

The optimistic viewpoint is students can be enrolled as quickly as the fall 2019 semester. However, even the less optimistic view signals a fall 2020 start.

It’s difficult to overplay the importance of this announcement. If nothing else, the announcement of the nursing program provides a psychological boost, a metaphorical shot in the arm, not only for the university, but also to Carbondale and all of Southern Illinois.

Let’s be perfectly clear, this is more than a feel-good announcement. The benefits will be tangible, not to mention long term.

When fully operational, the nursing program, as currently conceived, will enroll about 300 students. And, although the university expects to employ an additional five or six instructors, the program will cost SIU little or nothing.

When SIU announced tentative plans for the program last September, Southern Illinois Healthcare pledged $750,000 in seed money. SIH has since upped the ante to $1 million. In addition, there are indications another donor could provide another $1.2 million in seed money.

The new program will be part of the School of Allied Health, meaning no new administrative costs will be incurred. And, no new facilities will be required. The university estimates that if the program can attract just 120 students it will be self-sufficient.

For the first time in what seems like forever, the university can take a deep collective breath and feel like the future is bright. That rosy outlook is bolstered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which predicts a 16 percent increase in the number of nursing jobs.

In addition, SIH offers tuition reimbursement to nurses pursuing a BSN degree. Administrators of the organization have indicated they will steer students to the SIU program. It also doesn’t hurt that Southeastern Illinois College, John A. Logan College and Rend Lake College all have nursing programs that could funnel students to SIU to further their education.

There is still another element of good news emanating from the announcement. The location of the nursing program at the Carbondale campus represents a compromise between Carbondale and Edwardsville.

Initially there was concern that the SIUC program would create overlap with Edwardsville’s nursing program. Under the agreement, the Carbondale-based program will gradually absorb the Edwardsville based students.

In return, SIUC will not offer an online BSN component. The Edwardsville campus already offers such a program, which considered one of the best and most affordable in the country by Nursing School Hub.

Finally, there is the hope that many of the students enrolling in the SIUC school of nursing will fall in love with Southern Illinois, as many of us have, and make the region their home. Most of Southern Illinois, especially the more remote areas, are in dire need of medical professionals.

It would take a real pessimist not to see this announcement as a win-win-win situation.

And, it couldn’t have come at a better time. To paraphrase Ms. Murray, we sure needed a little good news today.