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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

April 2, 2019

April 1, 2019

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Uptick in collisions leads to Scott’s Law crackdown

After a second Illinois state trooper was killed in a week on Illinois roads, state police are alarmed, and you should be, too.

So far this year, motorists have hit 16 squad cars stopped along Illinois roads. Three of those incidents cost three Illinois State Police troopers their lives, including two this week.

To put this number into perspective, this year’s 16 collisions, occurring statewide at a rate of more than one a week, already are more than the yearly totals for 2016 (5), 2017 (12), and 2018 (8).

And there have been 495 recorded violations of the law, compared with 184 during the same period last year.

“This information is obviously extremely concerning,” acting ISP Director Brendan Kelly said Tuesday during a news conference at the capitol in Springfield, even before 36-year-old Trooper Brian Ellis was killed by a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 94 on Saturday.

In January, trooper Christopher Lambert was struck and killed along Interstate 294 near Northbrook while he was assisting at an accident scene.

On Thursday, Trooper Brooke Jones-Story was fatally struck in Freeport on Route 20 near Route 75. Jones-Story was conducting an inspection on the shoulder of the road when another semi-tractor trailer truck slammed into her.

These are worst-case scenarios among incidents occurring more often, Kelly said, despite a law that requires motorists to move over and slow down for emergency vehicles that are stopped and have their hazard lights flashing.

Scott’s Law was passed in Illinois in 2002. In 2013, the law was extended to apply to other vehicles, including ambulances and tow trucks.

Perhaps the turbulent winter led to more emergency vehicles being out on the road. Regardless, all the crashes were preventable.

“The amount of distracted driving out there is something everybody is sensitive to,” Kelly said. “And it’s increasing, at least anecdotally, from talking to our colleagues across the country.”

This is also worrisome as we head into road-construction season.

On Tuesday, Kelly referenced a plan to increase Scott’s Law enforcement by allocating an extra 2,000 man-hours and using “some new and creative techniques” devoted to catch drivers breaking the law.

It’s unfortunate it’s come to allocating more man-hours to catch distracted or impaired drivers, when it’s so simple to leave your phone alone while driving or not drive while under the influence.

However, looking at the incident numbers so far this year, the move is justified.

Asked to elaborate on the new tactics, which will be paid for with ISP’s existing funds, Kelly said he was “not going to spell it out right here.”

The 14th recorded collision with a parked squad car occurred March 20, when a state trooper and his parked squad car were hit by a semitrailer along Interstate 55 in Collinsville. The officer was outside his car when the crash occurred, and suffered serious injuries. The squad car was demolished.

Those who violate Scott’s Law face fines from $100 to $10,000 and a possible loss of a driver’s license. The law is named after Chicago Fire Department Lt. Scott Gillen, who was struck and killed while assisting at a crash on a Chicago expressway in December 2000.

And if you’re ticketed for violating Scott’s Law, know that the fine you pay is small compared with the potential life the ticket saved.

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March 31, 2019

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Real ID cards becoming part of ‘new normal’ for boarding commercial airlines, entering secure buildings

It has been a long time coming, but Illinois and Missouri are now issuing Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses, which will be needed to board planes or enter some federally controlled buildings starting next year.

These secure forms of identification soon will become a part of most people’s lives, blending into the many “new normal” experiences in our ever-changing world.

Back in 2005 when the Real-ID Act became federal law, many people saw it primarily as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The hijackers had obtained identification cards from a variety of states.

The United States was lax in its identification procedures when compared to most European countries.

The years of work to comply with the law were overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, which said the secure identification system also will help block domestic criminals from operating under assumed names.

Illinois has been issuing Real-ID compliant cards since January but only at limited sites. Last week the cards became available at any of the state’s licensing facilities.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said applicants for the cards must apply in person and provide documents proving their identity, Social Security number and written signature and two documents showing proof of Illinois residency.

The new cards are marked with a gold star in the top right corner and cost $30, the same as current cards.

“Although we are now issuing Real ID cards, current cards will be valid for domestic air travel until Oct. 1, 2020. Therefore, there is no rush to apply for a Real ID card,” White said.

The Missouri Department of Revenue started issuing Real ID cards last Monday. Missouri is among the last states to comply with the law. In 2009, former Gov. Jay Nixon signed a measure prohibiting the state from complying with the federal law. Lawmakers did not move to strike down that law until 2017, with some expressing concerns about the privacy of applicants.

Both Illinois and Missouri allow residents to seek Real ID cards or noncompliant cards. Those without compliant cards would need to present passports or some other form of federally issued identification to board commercial airplanes or enter military bases, federal facilities or nuclear plants. Those restrictions will start in October 2020.

The noncompliant cards offer a compromise for those people who want to limit the amount of personal information in federal databases.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much anyone can do to limit the amount of personal information that’s available online from websites that have no connection to the government.

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March 31, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Deadly mistakes

A study of the state’s response to a string of outbreaks that began in 2015 and continued in 2016, 2017 and 2018 was released last week by the state auditor general’s office.

It identified the source of the outbreak as a contaminated water tank at the home that was out of action between July and August 2015. After the tank was returned to operation, the outbreak quickly followed, with disastrous results.

The report states that “in addition to the 57 legionella cases at the (home) in 2015, there were numerous residents and staff sick during the first legionella outbreak; in total, 220 residents and staff were sick in August and September 2015.”

Legionnaires’ disease — known as legionellosis, — is a form of atypical pneumonia bacteria whose symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle pains and headaches. Spread by breathing in mist containing bacteria, it can contaminate hot-water tanks, hot tubs and cooling towers of large air conditioners.

Older people or those with histories of smoking, lung disease and poor immune systems are particularly vulnerable to infection.

The unusual name of the illness — Legionnaires’ disease — comes from the first-identified outbreak in 1976 at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. There are an estimated 8,000 to 18,000 cases leading to hospitalizations each year.

Given that toxic history, home managers and administrators at the state’s Veterans’ Affairs and Public Health departments were remarkably slow to respond.

The audit states that, after the second confirmed outbreak on Aug 21, 2015, there was “limited notification or specific procedures provided to the nursing staff” to protect patients and staff. Guidelines on water restrictions were not forthcoming until Aug. 27, 2015.

At the same time, officials rushed to reassure patients and staff that “we would not put the residents or staff at risk” if “we truly felt there was an issue.”

That statement is certainly true. But, more important, assurances of safety were provided by overseers when they, in fact, didn’t know what was going on.

Readers may recall that the steady series of news reports about the Legionnaires’ outbreak in western Illinois became a political football of sorts. Efforts by the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner were characterized as half-hearted or insincere.

But the audit makes clear that however badly the outbreaks were addressed at the outset, state officials worked feverishly to bring them under control.

The state spent more than $9.6 million between August 2015 and June 2018 on “legionella remediation.”

One thing is crystal clear about what happened — authorities were not prepared to address a problem of this magnitude once they finally were aware what was happening.

The audit recommends the state’s Veterans’ Affairs and Public Health departments, once aware of an outbreak, provide nursing home staffers “necessary instructions and guidelines in a timely manner to limit exposure to aerosolized water.”

It further urged Veterans’ Affairs to “develop monitoring protocols for use” during outbreaks “to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment of Legionnaires’ disease.” The audit chided authorities for poor and delayed communications to nursing home staff and patients and emphasized an “increase in communications ... during future outbreaks to ensure the (Public Health department) is aware of the severity of the outbreak.”

There is no question the state’s response to the Legionnaires’ outbreak was botched from the get-go, and as a result, the price in pain and suffering was unnecessarily high.

Given that reality, the best that can be salvaged from this occurrence is the opportunity to learn from — and not repeat — the deadly mistakes that were made.