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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

May 21, 2019

May 19, 2019

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Illinois’ hurry to embrace recreational marijuana

The unrelenting wave across the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana began in 2012 when Colorado and Washington by way of referendum became the first states in the union to grant that liberty.

Two years later, Alaska and Oregon followed suit; two years after that, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada joined in. All six by referendum.

Two years ago, Vermont became the first state to approve legalization through action by the state legislature without a referendum.

Last year, Michigan became the latest state to legalize recreational use of marijuana when voters agreed to it through a referendum.

All told, that’s 10 states that have embraced that freedom in this decade. A movement toward pot clearly is afoot.

Frankly, we don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

And that, it strikes us, is the problem as the General Assembly rushes toward a May 31 deadline to decide whether Illinois should become the 11th state on the list.

What’s the rush?

It seems clear that recreational marijuana hasn’t destroyed Colorado or Washington in the seven years since it was legalized.

But likewise, it’s also clear that we’re all still sifting through the implications in the states where the freedom has been granted, and there are plenty of analyses that suggest or conclude the measures are big business initiatives that have produced problems of one sort or another.

As State Rep. Marty Moylan, an opponent from Des Plaines, aptly points out, the associated commercialization of marijuana will focus on expanding its market by glamorizing marijuana use, not discouraging it.

As law enforcement critics point out, few practical techniques to test for marijuana use have been developed to assist in efforts to discourage driving under the influence.

Proponents of legalization concede that marijuana use can be harmful. Their primary argument is that the status quo is not working, however, and we grant that is true. They say that under legalization, marijuana production, sales and use can be regulated in ways that they can’t be now.

It’s a strong argument, and we’re open to it.

But again, we ask, what’s the rush?

Instead, let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re not first.

Instead, take a year, let both sides agree to design an independent study, perhaps with one of our universities, to examine the experience in the early-adopting states.

It would be important for the sides to agree on the methodology so we can get away from competing studies that have both sides saying the other is making false claims.

Questions to be addressed would include: auto crash rates, effect on psychosis, labor productivity, other health concerns, effect on underage rates of use, and more.

Take a year. If we’re going to consider recreational marijuana, let’s consider it right. Assign an independent body to develop a report. Publicize the findings. Then take it to the voters for their advice.

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May 20, 2019

Chicago Tribune

Gov. Pritzker and DCFS, when parents refuse services, that’s a red flag

When a 4 a.m. fire ripped through a Little Village carriage house last summer, firefighters found 10 children, mostly cousins ages 16 years down to 3 months, still in their sleeping positions. They had no chance to escape, fire investigators determined. No adult was home at the time.

Public records later showed the mother of five of the children who perished — the renter of the property — was the subject of more than 20 Department of Children and Family Services complaints since 2004. At least one complaint about lack of proper supervision stemmed from an incident in which one of her children, an 8-year-old who appeared to be autistic, was found darting into traffic. A separate 2015 investigation alleged she accompanied her teen daughter to a mall where they shoplifted, according to reports.

But most of the complaints DCFS investigated were labeled “unfounded.” And when the mother at one point suggested to investigators she was depressed and overwhelmed, DCFS tried to engage her in a program called intact family services. The program allows stressed families to stay together while offering home visits, counseling, child care help and parenting advice.

But the mother, according to DCFS, declined the offer of help. The family fell off the agency’s radar. Until the fire.

Cases in which parents reject DCFS intervention after the agency receives repeated complaints and hotline calls — yet there’s no emergency need to remove the children — fall into a gray area that Gov. J.B. Pritzker and DCFS need to swiftly address. Should DCFS intervention be voluntary for families on the margin, troubled but not in imminent crisis? Or should parents who have been identified as problematic be forced to accept state services or, if they won’t, temporarily lose custody of their children?

A Pritzker-commissioned report released last week from policy center Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago focused on the need to reform intact family services. Caseworkers who deal with high-risk families but can’t engage them in services “may simply close the case,” the report says. It happens routinely.

“Right now, it’s a dead end (for caseworkers),” says Dana Weiner, a lead researcher in the Chapin study and a longtime consultant on child welfare issues.

“Families may not even be refusing services, they may just be non-responsive,” she said. “But then the only recourse is to call the hotline” for worried family members, for mandated reporters and for caseworkers themselves who don’t know where else to turn while closing a questionable case.

That’s too risky. DCFS needs a specific protocol that accelerates these cases to supervisors or to the court system, where parents can be compelled to participate, to be subjected to home visits, or risk losing custody.

The 10 children who perished should serve as an urgent, tragic reminder to Pritzker and to DCFS. The governor owns the agency he inherited, has pledged to make it better and will be judged accordingly. If we can suggest one directive he should give to the agency:

DCFS should more dramatically prioritize families that have provoked repeated complaints yet who refuse services. No one knows if more help for this family would have brought about a different result. But parents and caretakers who refuse state help after numerous complaints shouldn’t fall off DCFS’ radar. Those refusals should be glaring, red flags.

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May 19, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Lack of funding is a harsh reality

It’s a sad state of affairs in our region when homeless shelters are shutting down and service organizations are stretched so thin financially they cannot fulfill their missions.

In March, the Williamson County Family Crisis Center, a homeless shelter in Herrin, shut its doors, leaving about 20 people who had been staying there to find another place to stay. And, earlier this year, the United Way of Southern Illinois announced it would have to indefinitely stop making payments to the local programs it had traditionally supported.

It’s a sad state of affairs, indeed.

In the case of the Herrin shelter, the board had to make the decision to close after years of battling dwindling private donations, inconsistent payments from state government and rising costs.

“It was sad when it closed,” said Peggy Russell, the executive director of the Williamson County Family Crisis Center since 1994. “We served over 4,000 shelter nights a year. It was really a challenge to do this. But we did help people.”

And help people they did. The folks who stayed there don’t choose to stay there. They are forced to stay there. Sometime, life deals a tough hand and we have to make decisions we wish we didn’t have to.

But it happens. And that’s exactly why homeless shelters are necessary and do exist.

A common refrain in some political circles states homeless shelters and the like should be privately funded. They say the government shouldn’t be involved in such endeavors. It is up to the churches and the private sector to care for the poorest among us.

Well, this is exactly what happens when the government isn’t involved — funding goes by the wayside in the form of a budget impasse and important social service needs go unfunded or forgotten about. And that’s not to say the state’s two-year-plus impasse is the sole cause of the closing. There are other factors at play.

Southern Illinois is struggling economically.

Two decades ago, most people came to the shelter because of a lost job or an unexpected medical emergency and resulting bill, according to Russell. In more recent years, the clientele was composed of an increasing number of families facing chronic economic challenges. Oftentimes, these families came to the shelter after staying with friends or family, but then they were forced to go.

In other words, times change — and they can get more difficult.

In terms of donations, there are only so many organizations, foundations and individuals in the region with the wherewithal to consistently provide funding. The reality is those individuals and institutions are stretched thin by requests from all over the spectrum. While grateful for these groups, there’s only so much cash to go around. That’s just a fact of life.

Sadly, it’s not just the Herrin shelter and the United Way of Southern Illinois facing financial difficulties. Other regional shelters face the same issues.

Patty Mullen, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries in Carbondale, said her nonprofit has “been on thin ice quite a few times in the past six years” but has managed to stay open. “June, July, August is when we start to see our funds dwindle to the point where we’re having to make cuts to employee hours, to programs, and services,” she said, “and yet in 35 years, we’ve never closed our doors.”

We’re pretty sure that situation exists universally in Illinois.

We realize that there’s no magic wand to fix these problems immediately. Checks with a bunch of zeroes on the end of them aren’t coming magically in the mail anytime soon.

And, we also realize the blame doesn’t rest solely with the state. The budget impasse didn’t help, but as Russell said in a story this week in The Southern, it’s just a “perfect storm” of financial challenges that led to this point.

We can’t offer any solutions. But, this is the reality in today’s world. We just wish it didn’t have to be this way.

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