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Illinois Medicaid legislation too late for nursing home
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Medicaid, Managed Care , Nursing Homes (68) , Senior Citizens (81) Mulroe, John--State Senate, 10 , Syverson, Dave--State Senate, 35
PLEASANT HILL — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's recent signing of bills to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for Medicaid approval won't save a small-town nursing home from closing next month.

Pleasant Hill Village Administrator Maryann Walker told the State Journal-Register that she's happy Rauner signed the two Senate bills earlier this month, but that they won't keep her Macoupin County skilled-care facility open.

Pleasant Hill Healthcare is planning to close Sept. 1, mostly driven by the backlog in Medicaid payments related to the state's delayed decisions on eligibility. The nonprofit facility is still waiting on about $2.3 million in Medicaid payments for more than a dozen patients, most of whom have either left for other nursing homes or died.

Walker said she hopes the new laws help other nursing homes remain open.

"You don't want to see this happen to other people if you can avoid it," she said. "For us, it was like, 'too little, too late.'"

Democratic Sen. John Mulroe of Chicago and Republican Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford sponsored a bill that allows banks to share financial information with the state to help determine long-term care eligibility.

Mulroe, Syverson and other senators from both parties sponsored another bill that eliminates the annual application for long-term care beneficiaries if their financial situation is unchanged. It also allows for facilities to provide missing application data to the state instead of forcing them to wait to get the information from the patient or a family member.

"We want to do everything possible in easing the bureaucratic burden on seniors and their loved ones as they enroll in Medicaid long-term care," Rauner said in a news release. "It is not fair to residents that it can take up to a year to get approved for essential services. Our families deserve better."


Madigan foe: Speaker’s call for Rauner deposition part of ‘political witch hunt’
Chicago Sun Times
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Tina Sfondeles
Rauner, Bruce Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday said he doesn’t know the man suing Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in federal court for allegedly helping to put “sham” candidates on ballots.

 

But the plaintiff, Jason Gonzales, is now coming to the Republican governor’s defense, arguing against requiring depositions of Rauner and many of the governor’s GOP allies and former staffers.

 

Gonzales’ attorneys contend the depositions Madigan’s team are seeking concern a documentary that was highly critical of the speaker titled “Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics,” which was released in October 2016.

 

A motion filed Monday by one of Gonzales’ attorneys accuses the powerful speaker of engaging in “political intelligence” in order to tarnish Rauner in the November election.

 

“It appears that Speaker Madigan is not interested in what the witnesses know about this case but seeks instead to engage in political intelligence about the film’s origin, perhaps even to obtain evidence for the ongoing Illinois general election campaign of November 2018 or even a future suit,” attorney Stephen Boulton wrote in the motion filed in U.S. District Court. “Defendants’ subpoenas are an improper use of this Court’s subpoena power of this Court to engage in political intelligence.”

 

Gonzales argues in the suit that Madigan put up two “sham” candidates with Latino names to try to split the Hispanic vote in the March 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan beat Gonzales 65.2 percent to 27.1 percent. The other two primary candidates received a combined 7.8 percent.

 

“Until Mr. Madigan makes specific allegations linking Gonzales to the film, allegations that will be subject to Rule 11 [sanctioning attorneys for ‘frivolous arguments’], he should have no ability to depose witnesses for his own separate political purposes,” the motion states. “Finally, Plaintiff and his attorneys should not be put to the expense and loss of time while Defendants engage in their unfounded political witch hunt.”

 

Madigan’s attorneys in June told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly one of the defense strategies is to try to prove that Gonzales was a “closet Republican.” Gonzales has denied being a “plant of Gov. Rauner.”

 

Rauner on Monday told reporters he doesn’t know Gonzales and has “never spoken with him, never had an interaction with him.”

 

Still, Gonzales’ attorneys are coming to the governor’s defense, along with a Who’s Who of political operatives and former campaign and staff employees, including former Rauner administration counsel Dennis Murashko, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and former Rauner campaign adviser Nick Ayers, and millionaire investor Blair Hull, a Madigan foe who spent roughly $30 million of his own fortune on a failed 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate bid.

 

Hull helped create the PAC Illinois United for Change, which in 2006 helped to fund ads and mailers that either helped to promote Gonzales or criticized Madigan.

 

Others on the Madigan deposition list include Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman and former Illinois Policy Institute head Kristina Rasmussen, who served 88 days as Rauner’s chief of staff last year. They’re also seeking depositions from former Rauner campaign managers and Austin Berg, an Illinois Policy Institute employee who wrote the documentary film.

 

“Defendant Madigan apparently just wants to know who was involved in making the film, using the subpoena power of this Court to obtain testimony from those he thinks had a role. That is not a proper use of this Court’s power,” Gonzales’ motion contends. “These concerns are magnified when one of the proposed deponents is the sitting Governor, a strong political opponent of Speaker Madigan with the deposition being taking in a heated election season, when there is not one allegation before the Court about the Governor.”

 

Cicero Town President Larry Dominick leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in 2013 after winning a case in which his older brother accused Dominick of wrongfully firing him from a town board. File photo. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Cicero Town President Larry Dominick leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in 2013 after winning a case in which his older brother accused Dominick of wrongfully firing him from a town board. File photo. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

 

Madigan’s deposition was scheduled for July 18 but was canceled and not yet re-scheduled, according to his spokesman. Rauner’s tentative deposition was set for Sept. 6, although a firm date was never settled. His counsel said defendants could pick a date but the governor “may not be able to commit to it,” a filing said.

 

Gonzales attorneys are seeking to depose dozens of petition circulators, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, former Madigan operative Kevin Quinn and his brother, Ald. Marty Quinn, among others.

 

A status hearing is set for Thursday.


Brewery taprooms get more flexibility on beers they can pour thanks to new law
Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Josh Noel
Alcohol (32)

Taprooms at Illinois breweries can offer a wider array of beer and cider as a result of legislation signed during the weekend by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

 

Before House Bill 4897 became law Saturday, many breweries were restricted to pouring their own beer and beer made on site. The new law allows a brewery to pour beer made at other breweries as well.

 

Breweries licensed as brewpubs, such as Piece Brewery and Pizzeria or the Off Color Brewing taproom, were already able to pour guest beers. However, the new law allows significantly more breweries to pour beer made at other breweries as well as cider made elsewhere.

 

Danielle D’Alessandro, executive director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, which pushed for the legislation, said breweries likely won’t be surrendering large numbers of taps to competitors but will likely embrace the flexibility.

 

A brewery that specializes in sour and wild ales, for instance, may want to dedicate a tap handle to another brewery’s India pale ale. Also, breweries will now be able to pour beers on which they collaborated at other breweries.

 

“It all depends on the brewery,” D’Alessandro said. “I think you’ll see some creativity we’re not even thinking about.”

 

The biggest impact may be a proliferation of cider being offered to appeal to gluten-free drinkers, D’Alessandro said.

 

The bill passed both the state House and Senate unanimously after months of negotiating between the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, which represents the state’s beer distributors.

 

“We’ve seen craft beer driven by consumer demand and choice and we’re providing consumers more choice when they walk into a taproom,” D’Alessandro said.


'It wasn’t just saving one life, it was saving five': State lawmaker donates kidney to her ex-husband
Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Heidi Stevens
Conroy, Deb--State House, 46

Deb and Tim Conroy knew for 25 years that Tim would need a new kidney.

In June, she gave him one of hers.

“I feel great,” Deb Conroy told me last week, seven weeks post-surgery.

We were seated in folding chairs in her Villa Park office, where she’s worked as a state representative for the 46th District since winning election in 2012.

“Getting a kidney means getting your whole life back,” Tim Conroy said, recovering at his home in Elmhurst.

Close to three decades ago, Tim Conroy was diagnosed with chronic poststreptococcal disorder, which means the bacteria that cause strep throat were attacking his kidney, triggering renal hypertension. He had a stroke at age 29.

At the time of the stroke, the couple had two little boys, Sean and Ryan. Doctors told Tim it would be five to 10 years before he’d need a kidney transplant, and he started a bevy of medications to prevent another stroke or heart failure.

In 2015, Tim’s organs began to fail. He started dialysis, and the long process toward finding a kidney donor.

Tim and Deb had four boys by then — Brendan and Will had joined Sean and Ryan— and the couple had also started the process toward divorce. Nonetheless, Deb was tested to see if her kidney was a match for Tim.

“I knew if I was a match, I was going to do it,” she said. “There wasn’t even any decision to make. I knew it wasn’t just saving one life, it was saving five. My boys would never be the same without their dad.”

She was a match.

Tim and Deb were each assigned a medical team. After several months of testing, the surgeries — hers to donate, his to receive — were scheduled for 2016.

Then another setback: Tim was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, an extremely rare, slow-growing cancer of the blood. And the chemotherapy drug typically used to treat hairy cell was off-limits to Tim because he didn’t have a fully functioning kidney.

Oncologists were, thankfully, able to treat the cancer with less toxic drugs, and he’s been in remission since November. “It will come back,” Deb said. “We just don’t know when.”

Meanwhile, a new kidney became more critical than ever, since it would be Tim’s key to receiving the chemo he needs to fight the hairy cell.

On June 20, the surgeries were, again, scheduled.

“It was a mixture of relief and gratitude,” Sean Conroy, 32, said last week. “We couldn’t have been more grateful for the sacrifice Mom was willing to make for the family. We were worried about both of our parents having to go through the surgery, but we knew how strong both of them are.”

Both surgeries were successful, and Deb’s kidney started to function right away in Tim. Deb was home from the hospital the next day.

“I felt really good,” she said. “I knew Tim was going to be OK and my boys were going to have their dad, so any discomfort I felt was canceled out by joy.”

Tim is on anti-rejection drugs to help his body accept the new kidney, and his blood pressure has stabilized.

“I stopped by the dialysis unit today — a place I spent three entire mornings a week,” Tim said last week. “And I felt a huge sense of relief. I wish for everyone waiting on dialysis the same chance at a whole life. And soon.” Deb and Tim were officially divorced last year. They live near each other in Elmhurst and still get together with their boys, ages 32, 28, 23, 21. Deb gets some funny looks when she tells people she donated a kidney to her ex-husband.

“People fall off their chairs when you say ‘ex-husband,’” she said. “I guess I just don’t understand. To me, some relationships work, and some don’t. But if you have children together, family’s always family. That was illustrated to me even more through this journey.”

She just filed paperwork to enact a live donor bill of rights. She’s hoping to find a Republican co-sponsor to help her introduce the legislation in the fall. The bill would protect live donors from having their insurance rates increase as a result of their organ donation.

“This experience put me in a new place where I realized I need to do everything I can to let people know about organ donation,” she said. “It’s important that people understand the surgery to donate is not that difficult. I want people to understand you can do your job and take care of your family and save a life. I want people to consider donating. Just open your heart to it.”

In Illinois, 4,258 people are on a waiting list for an organ, according to Gift of Hope, a nonprofit organ and tissue donor network for Illinois and northwest Indiana. In 2018, the organization estimates, more than 200 people in Illinois will die while waiting for a transplant.

Deb hopes their story helps bring those numbers down.

“I have a little nephew, he’s in that age where he questions everything,” Deb said. “He goes, ‘Aunt Debby. You keep saying you only need one kidney. Why does God give you two?’

“After the surgery,” she continued, “I said, ‘You know what, Liam? Now you know why. God gave me two kidneys so I could hold this one for Uncle Tim until he needed it.’”

hstevens@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13


Morning Spin
Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday vetoed legislation that would have applied many workplace anti-discrimination requirements to businesses with a single employee or more.

The governor said the existing threshold of applying the rules to businesses with 15 workers or more was consistent with federal law.

“This longstanding and well-reasoned threshold balances the need to foster fair, equitable and harassment-free workplaces across the state with the lopsided burden that discrimination claims impose upon small businesses and startups” as compared with large businesses, Rauner said in his veto message.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Chicago Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, criticized Rauner’s veto, saying on Twitter that his legislation “would have made discrimination illegal in every workplace in Illinois.”

“Right now if you work at a job with (less than) 15 employees, state law doesn’t protect you from discrimination by age, gender, religion, etc.,” Guzzardi wrote.

The measure passed with 64 House votes and 33 Senate votes, shy of the number that would be needed to override a veto. (Rick Pearson)

What’s on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel will help open a new food hall at Midway Airport and attend a Public Building Commission meeting.

*Gov. Rauner will act on legislation at the Illinois State Fair, then attend the Governor’s Sale of Champions.

*Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker will make bus tour stops in Taylorville, Caseyville, Alton and East St. Louis.

From the notebook

*A mooving story: The real political festivities at the Illinois State Fair start on Wednesday, but first, there’s a steer to be sold.

Tuesday evening is the Governor’s Sale of Champions, an annual charity auction where last year Gov. Rauner bid $50,000 for the prize-winning steer named Snuggles.

During his 2014 campaign, Rauner showed up then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn at the auction when he and wife, Diana, bought a champion steer for $56,300. This time, he’s running against Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune.

What we’re writing

*Rauner doesn’t say what crimes he wants Madigan “prosecuted” for: “I hope he’s been doing something illegal.”

*Alderman says Chicago police broke city's sanctuary law in counterfeit clothing raid.

*Cook County Forest Preserve District sued over fatal dump truck crash involving allegedly impaired former worker.

*Rauner signs law requiring Illinois hospitals have nurses trained to treat rape victims

*Brewery taprooms get more flexibility on beers they can pour because of new law.

What we’re reading

*Willow Creek paid $3.25M to settle lawsuits over child sex abuse by church volunteer.

*Aretha Franklin is reportedly seriously ill.

*A sticky problem: Boom in taste for octopus squeezes market.

Follow the money

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.

Beyond Chicago

*Prosecution rests in Manafort case.

*Strzok fired over anti-Trump texts.

*Omarosa says she taped Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

*Trump’s Harley boycott call affects Wisconsin primary.


Rauner doesn’t say what crimes he wants Madigan ‘prosecuted’ for: ‘I hope he’s been doing something illegal’
Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Rick Pearson
Candidates--Statewide (12) , Rauner, Bruce Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

Days after he gave campaign money to the Republican attorney general candidate and said she’d “prosecute” his chief political nemesis, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday didn’t say what crimes he believes Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has committed but said he has “hope” that Madigan did something illegal.

“Clearly he’s been doing unethical things. I hope he’s been doing something illegal and I hope he gets prosecuted,” Rauner said of Madigan, the nation’s longest serving statehouse leader, who has served as speaker for all but two years since 1983.

A Madigan spokesman labeled Rauner’s remarks further “wild statements” coming during the governor’s “exit interview tour as he winds up the four years of failure in his administration.”

Rauner’s comments accusing political opponents of criminal activity ratchet up years of rhetoric in which he has labeled rivals as “corrupt” without offering specific allegations of lawbreaking.

His latest remarks came after an unrelated bill-signing ceremony in Palatine and symbolized the ever-evolving explanations he has given since declaring on a southern Illinois radio station last week that he was giving $1 million to the campaign of GOP attorney general candidate Erika Harold to win and go after Madigan.

“I’m funding Erika Harold. I’m giving her a million dollars, which is a lot of money for me. But I need her to win. Lisa Madigan has defended the corruption of her dad. Erika Harold will prosecute Madigan and the corruption. She’s awesome,” Rauner said Thursday on WJPF AM-1020 in Marion.

Harold, an Urbana attorney, is competing with Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago for the attorney general’s office being vacated by Lisa Madigan after 16 years.

After receiving the $1 million contribution from Rauner, Harold’s campaign on Monday unveiled a statewide TV ad following up on the governor’s allegations. In the ad, Harold contends “politicians have turned corruption into an art form,” seeks to link Raoul to Madigan and promises that as “attorney general, I’ll make the politicians pay for their corruption — not you.”

Raoul’s campaign called the Harold ad an attempt to “distract from her extreme record” of social conservatism.

Rauner has long talked about prosecuting corruption. In the fall of his 2014 campaign, Rauner vowed to “prosecute” corruption if he was elected governor — even though he has no legal authority to do so.

As for the attorney general, that office lacks the ability to directly “prosecute” corruption and instead must refer or work criminal cases with local state’s attorneys. Harold has pushed for a law convening statewide grand juries to allow the attorney general to prosecute criminal acts. Such a plan has long been proposed by attorney general candidates in both parties but has been disregarded by lawmakers fearful that it could lead to the prosecution of political enemies.

After his Downstate radio remarks, Rauner was asked at several public appearances to explain what crimes he alleges Madigan has committed. He responded that Madigan has created a conflict of interest through legislation that affects property taxes while at the same time running a property-tax appeals law firm in Chicago.

Asked at a statehouse news conference last week if such a practice was legal, Rauner’s response was: “It shouldn’t be.” After being asked at a Peoria news conference last week whether Madigan was violating any current laws, the governor replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Instead, Rauner said he backed Harold to conduct “investigations” of potential “conflicts of interest and self-dealing” and that the attorney general can lead in an effort “to make things that are unethical, make them illegal.”

The Republican governor went on to speculate: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the detail of investigations turns out that there have been crimes committed — but it needs an investigation to be done.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Rauner’s lashing out at potential illegality was an attempt to distract voters.

“He can’t cover up all the things that he did … so he makes these wild statements,” Brown said. “We know various news organizations, others, have examined the conduct of the speaker, the work of the law firm and other things and have found no improper or special treatment.”

Rauner has routinely used the word “corrupt” to describe his political enemies since his initial campaign for governor — often seeking to lump opponents in with Madigan and disgraced and imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It is a tactic he used to defeat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014 and is using against current Democratic governor nominee J.B. Pritzker.

This time around, Rauner also is using strong rhetoric to attack a third-party challenge from Republican state Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview. McCann is seeking the governor’s office under the Conservative Party banner.

On Monday, he referred to McCann as a “total plant,” “a sham” and a “charlatan” put up by Madigan and Pritzker to siphon votes away from the re-election seeking governor. McCann has denied Rauner’s allegations.

rap30@aol.com


Rauner signs bill easing private takeover of water utilities, stirring outcry
Chicago Tribune
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Patrick M. O'Connell and Cecilia ReyesContact Reporter
EPA (41) , Rauner, Bruce

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday signed an amendment to a state water bill that makes it easier for private water companies to buy large water systems, a move critics say will lead to higher water bills for consumers.

Originally signed into law in 2013, the Illinois Water Systems Viability Act allows private water companies to buy out water utilities and spread the costs across its existing ratepayers. The bill renews the act’s amendments for another 10 years and removes a limit on the size of water systems that private companies can buy.

Private water companies said the bill would allow them to improve water quality and system reliability, enhances fire protection across the state and will help struggling systems gain compliance with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois are the two biggest companies that serve residents whose municipalities have outsourced water service. Consumer advocates fear it will increase the chance of a monopoly on the resource.

In June, the Citizens Utility Board held a news conference at Homer Glen Village Hall to criticize the legislation. The board said the bill would allow private companies to grow unchecked at the expense of Illinois residents and lead to higher rates. The mayors of Homer Glen and Bolingbrook, where residents have complained of soaring water bills charged by private companies, along with several legislators, attended the event.

On Monday, Homer Glen Mayor George Yukich lambasted the new law.

“It’s going to upset a lot of people. They’re already charging us so much money,” he said, “Rauner should be ashamed of himself.”

TRIBUNE INVESTIGATION: Precious resource, private profits: Rates and tempers rise as towns look to companies to manage water systems »

Homer Glen is served by Illinois American Water. Residents of the village northwest of Joliet paid $85.58 a month per 5,000 gallons, not including sewer charges — a figure higher than all but one of the Chicago area’s publicly managed systems that use Lake Michigan water, according to a survey conducted by the Tribune for its 2017 series “The Water Drain.” The average bill for 5,000 gallons in that survey was $44.

“I don’t understand how politicians don’t understand that if you don’t have enough money to pay for the water now, how are you going to be able to pay for it in the future if the rates keep going up and up and up?” he said.

The bill was introduced this year by Rep. Nick Sauer, R-Lake Barrington, who resigned Aug. 1 following accusations he sent nude photos of an ex-girlfriend to other men online. The legislation is part of the Public Utilities Act, which designates the Illinois Commerce Commission as the gatekeeper of “reasonable” rate increases and a competitive energy market.

Rauner’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Aqua Illinois emphasized that even with the amendment, municipalities retain control over whether to sell their water system to a private operator.

“It is important to remember that the opportunity afforded by this bill is simply an option for municipalities,” Aqua Illinois said.

This type of local control over water systems came to a head Monday in Baltimore, where Mayor Catherine Pugh signed legislation to ban privatization of the city’s water system outright, becoming the first city in the United States to do so.

The measure still has to be approved by voters in the November election.

“Unlike in Illinois, water privatization is not happening in the same scale in Maryland,” said Mary Grant, campaign director for the Food & Water Watch, a national nonprofit that focuses on access to food and water and has regional teams throughout the country.

“Transparency in operation, public access in information are essential to affordable water.” Grant said. “That’s exactly what privatization takes away.”

poconnell@tronc.com

creyes@chicagotribune.com


Don't let Madigan off hook on budget
Daily Herald
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Letter to Editor  |   William McNutt
Rauner, Bruce Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

In this era of Donald Trump politics, we will read many half-truths but the recent Democratic ad by J.B. Pritzker for governor seems a bit much to me. It claims that Gov. Rauner cost the state a billion dollars in interest because he did not pass a balanced budget. No mention is made of Speaker Mike Madigan who has had control of the House for over 30 years (over 25 of those years with large deficits) and for which that interest is being paid. He has earned the state of Illinois a reputation of being the worst-governed state in the union.

Madigan has been one of the strongest politicians in Illinois history. There is little likelihood that he will lose his seat until he chooses to retire. He has made himself and friends millionaires with his power over the legislature and public finances. Legislators can set their own rules because of voter apathy,

When Republican Rauner was elected governor, he promised an end to some of the corruption and waste in government which would likely raise the Illinois bond rating which is near junk. The budget battle was clearly between Madigan, who continues his spending and borrowing, and Rauner, who pledged to cut waste and deliver a balanced budget. Clearly Madigan and friends won the waiting game and Rauner had to sign the budget with the spending program passed by the legislature.

Too many people vote for whoever promises them the most. Others do not vote and let the corruption continue. Friends vote for them because they benefit from the corruption.

We get what we vote (or don't vote) for, and reside in the most corrupt state in the union. When will we wake up? Who has written to their rep in the last year?

William McNutt

Des Plaines


Returning students will have MAP grant priority
Daily Herald
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Education Funding (36a)

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs a pair of higher education bills Monday at Harper College in Palatine as Harper President Ken Ender, center, and Republican state Sen. Tom Rooney of Rolling Meadows watch. (Rick West | Staff Photographer)

 

A bill intended to make it easier for college students to transfer credits within Illinois was signed into law Monday by Gov. Bruce Rauner during a visit to Harper College in Palatine.

 

The changes outlined in Senate Bill 2354 also encourage colleges to advise students on how best to apply credits toward degrees, with the intention of keeping students from spending money on unneeded credits.

 

Rauner also signed House Bill 5020, which gives priority to returning students for MAP grants. The grants, which do not need to be repaid, are awarded to Illinois residents who attend approved Illinois colleges and demonstrate financial need. Nearly 130,000 students received MAP grants last year.

 

The changes mean colleges "are now in a position to make aid offers that Illinois-based students will be more eager to accept," Rauner said.

 

State Sen. Tom Rooney of Rolling Meadows credited the legislature's bipartisan Higher Education Working Group, which formed to address declining enrollment in higher education in Illinois.

 

"The result of our work was legislation that strives to do better for Illinois students," Rooney said.


Start miles-traveled tax study, but as part of comprehensive roads strategy
Daily Herald
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

The generally decayed and decaying condition of Illinois roads is evident to anyone who uses them, and without more transportation revenue, it's clear things are only going to get worse. Finding that revenue, of course, is the challenge.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning offered some alternatives in a release last week, including an increase in the gasoline sales tax and a test of a tax based on how much of the roadway a vehicle uses. Both are conversations we have to have.

The gas tax -- more formally known as the motor fuel tax or MFT -- is difficult to automatically sign on to in Illinois' troubling, heavy-handed tax climate, but a fundamental flaw in the system seriously needs to be confronted. The tax -- a fixed 19 cents a gallon for typical gasoline and 21.5 cents a gallon for diesel -- hasn't been changed since 1990. As a result, CMAP says, the tax that is the primary support for Illinois' roads and bridges brings in less money nearly every year -- primarily due to the development of fuel-efficient engines and to the rise in electric and hybrid vehicles. CMAP estimates that gas tax revenues in the Chicago region, which amounted to about $600 million in 2017, will fall to roughly $450 million by 2050.

Among a variety of reforms, CMAP's latest comprehensive plan, which you can find in draft form at www.cmap.illinois.gov/, recommends raising the motor fuel tax in the short term by at least 15 cents and tying it to inflation. If the 19 cents tax imposed in 1990 had been tied to inflation, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute says it would be 31 cents today.

Then for the long term, CMAP's planners envision transitioning to a tax that raises money for roads by focusing on how much they are used. That change to a "vehicle miles traveled" -- or VMT -- tax could bring in $31 billion more between 2019 and 2050 than our current tax would produce, they say. To move in that direction, they want to launch a pilot program in the Chicago area, noting that tests using volunteers in other states have shown promising early results.

These are intriguing ideas -- though not necessarily slam dunks. A gasoline sales tax does, for instance, help account for the added impact of large gas-guzzling vehicles that cause more pollution and increased wear-and-tear on roads compared to smaller, fuel-efficient cars. And, a VMT tax brings difficult issues on collection methods, privacy and fairness across rural, urban and suburban environments.

But CMAP is certainly correct that these ideas need to be explored. A volunteer-based pilot program on VMT for the Chicago area is a good place to begin. The "lockbox" amendment passed in 2016 -- requiring all taxes collected for roads to be spent on roads -- was a start toward stabilizing Illinois' roadwork funding picture, but it won't fill the gaps created by declining fuel consumption and increasing road deterioration. The question is, what will? And then, what is the fairest way to do implement it?

CMAP will officially launch its ONTO2050 comprehensive plan on Oct. 10 in ceremonies at Chicago's Millennium Park. Its Vehicle Miles Traveled provision might be among the answers. We'll never know for certain unless we test it. We need to get that under way soon so we can incorporate the data we collect into a larger roadwork strategy.


Fed looks to crack down on blue-state tax workaround before many are implemented
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   By Cole Lauterbach
Governor (44) , Revenue , Taxes, income (86)
The IRS has a pending rule that could disqualify efforts by blue states to subvert a cap on how much in state and local taxes a resident can write off on their federal tax returns, potentially making a pending Illinois bill useless.

The rule could be released as early as this week. From what Treasury and Internal Revenue Service officials have said, it appears that they are going to crack down on efforts by many high-tax states to get around the $10,000 deduction cap on how much in state and local taxes (SALT) can be written off of a federal return. This new SALT cap became active this year after President Donald Trump signed tax reform into law last December that reduced a number of income tax rates.

Four states have since filed a lawsuit against the federal government, saying the cap on the state and local tax deduction is unconstitutional.

Jared Walczak with the Tax Foundation expects the Treasury to crack down on these schemes since IRS rules say that a deduction cannot result in a net gain to a filer.

“The state and local tax deduction has long served as a subsidy for high-tax states, particularly high-income and high-tax states who are effectively asking the rest of the country to pay for larger government for those with the greatest ability to afford it,” he said.

Illinois lawmakers were close to sending their version of a SALT cap workaround to Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this year but the bill stalled. The proposed legislation would have set up a charitable foundation, the Illinois Education Excellence Fund, and treat donations to it as a tax write-off. This plan would allow a filer to get around the new $10,000 federal cap of state and local taxes.

The sponsor said via email that he still will try to get it passed when lawmakers return to Springfield this November.

Illinoisans looking to get a full deduction off their property taxes one last time flocked to local county clerk’s offices before the end of the year. There was later a question as to whether they would receive the full deduction, which they did.


With Chicago’s continued violence, federal public safety grants tied up over “sanctuary” status
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop
Attorney General (6) , Chicago Mayor (16) , Chicago (16) , Crime (28) , Governor (44) , Immigration (99a) McSweeney, David--State House, 52
As the city of Chicago continues to grapple with gun violence, leaders say there needs to be more resources, but the state’s perceived sanctuary laws have public safety grants in limbo.

Chicago violence got the attention of President Donald Trump, who late last week singled out The Windy City.

“Bad stuff happening and probably I guess you have to take it from the leadership, it’s called bad leadership,” Trump said. “There’s no reason in a million years that should be happening in Chicago.”

So far this year, the Chicago Sun Times reports, there have been at least 340 homicides.

Gov. Bruce Rauner blasted Chicago leaders for “fundamentally failing and failing horribly” at addressing violence and said they need more resources.

One thing Trump’s administration has battled Chicago over is law enforcement grants from the federal government. Trump’s Department of Justice says Chicago isn’t enforcing federal immigration laws.

“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement – enough is enough.”

Chicago and Cook County were top on the list in a statement earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Justice “demanding the production of documents that could show whether each jurisdiction is unlawfully restricting information sharing by its law enforcement officers with federal immigration authorities.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said cities that don’t follow the law should not be rewarded.

“At the federal level, I voted to withhold funds from communities that don’t follow the law,” Davis said. “If you don’t like the law, let’s work together to change it.”

Rauner said he doesn’t like so-called sanctuary policies.

“I think that’s wrong, we have laws they should be enforced,” Rauner said. “I emphatically do not support sanctuary status. I think it’s been a mistake for Chicago to pursue the sanctuary policies that they have. I do not agree with them on that.”

But Rauner signed the TRUST Act in 2017 that state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said made Illinois a sanctuary state.

“It creates new hurdles for detaining people who are in this country illegally and who are in jail for another crime,” McSweeney said.

In 2016, local and county governments across Illinois received a total of $3.3 million from the Byrne JAG program. Chicago and other areas within Cook County received the bulk of that, more than $2.3 million.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the Department of Justice last month over the $6.5 million in Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funds she said are meant for Illinois, saying Illinois’ TRUST Act complies with federal law.

McSweeney said Illinois’ TRUST Act does not comply with federal law and needs to be repealed.

On the violence in Chicago, McSweeney said Rauner needs to call the White House to get the feds involved. Even state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, last week said politics should be dropped and the Trump administration brought in to assist.

Rauner said there has been increased Illinois State Police patrols in the area, but he did not directly address what his administration is doing to coordinate with the Trump administration when asked several times last week. Instead, Rauner said another fix to the problem is growing the economies in communities affected by the violence.

“We can do this,” Rauner said. “I’ve made recommendations, Reduce the red tape, reduce the regulations, cut the taxes and we can bring a lot of companies here and we can drop that unemployment rate. That will solve a lot of it.”


Most kindergarten students not ready for school, state study says
State Journal Register
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Brenden Moore
Education--Elementary and Secondary (36)

Less than a quarter of Illinois children were fully prepared to enter kindergarten in 2017, a study released Monday by the state board of education revealed.

 

The study, known as the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS), is a first-ever snapshot of kindergarten readiness in the state. Its findings are based on teacher observations of students’ skills, knowledge and behaviors in three key development areas over the first 40 days of the school year.

Just 24 percent of Illinois kindergarten students measured were rated as ready in all three development areas: social and emotional development; language and literacy development; and math. Forty-two percent were not ready in any development area, 17 percent were ready in one and 18 percent were ready in two.

 

Perhaps the most glaring divide was between students who received free/reduced price lunch — 16 percent of which were ready in all categories — versus those who do not, 30 percent of which were ready.

 

Teachers across the state used the KIDS instrument to observe students’ development and record it. About 106,000 students, or 81 percent of kindergarteners, were included in the study.

 

State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said the data “gives families, teachers, and communities a powerful tool to advocate for the resources and supports all children need.”

 

“We all have an urgent opportunity and responsibility to align state policy and investments with what children need for long-term academic and social success,” Smith said.

 

Among Springfield School District 186 kindergarten students, just 12 percent were deemed ready for school in all development areas. Sixty percent were not ready in any area or in just one.

 

State officials caution, however, that the numbers are not reflective of district or school performance, noting that children enter kindergarten with a wide variety of prior educational and child care experiences.

 

Sheila Boozer, District 186′s director of teaching and learning, said the data will help the district identify the areas where readiness is a challenge, which would then help with professional development of the district’s staff and identify areas to work with preschools to improve readiness.

 

“There’s not a real clear-cut as (to) what it means to be ready for kindergarten,” Boozer said. “So I think this is going to help open the doors and the conversations for us all to be on the same page talking about what do we mean for a student to be kindergarten-ready.”

 

Tricia Burke, principal of Ball Elementary School in Ball-Chatham School District 5, said it will take time and more data to draw conclusions. In her district, 43 percent of students were ready in all categories, and the same amount were ready in only one area or not at all.

 

Burke said it will take “more than a one-time shot” as the district dives into this year’s data and teachers hone their observation practices this year.

 

″(We are) working on making sure that we have an understanding of what we’re observing for because we do realize that early learning and learning about what students come to us ready to do is important, but we need to make sure we take the time to really understand the assessment and what we’re assessing,” Burke said.

 

One area Burke said she is interested in is comparing how prepared students from the district-run preschool program fared versus those with other backgrounds.

 

KIDS was implemented statewide for the first time in 2017. It was preceded by a five-year pilot program in select districts, reaching more than 50,000 children.

 

 

Contact Brenden Moore: 788-1526, brenden.moore@sj-r.com, twitter.com/brendenmoore13.

 

****

 

Kindergarten readiness by development area:

 

Amounts in percentages

 

District; zero; one; two; three

 

Statewide: 42; 17; 18; 24

 

Ball-Chatham School District 5: 28; 15; 14; 43

 

Pleasant Plains School District 8: 40; 18; 17; 25

 

Riverton School District 14: 9; 24; 28; 39

 

Rochester School District 3A: 11; 59; 30; 1

 

Springfield School District 186: 42; 18; 28; 12

 

Williamsville School District 15: 19; 15; 25; 42


New superintendent named for Springfield historic sites
State Journal Register
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Historic Preservation, historic sites (50)

The new superintendent of Springfield’s state historic sites didn’t take a direct path to historic preservation.

 

Armed with a degree in park resource management from Kansas State University, Troy Gilmore initially came to Springfield 25 years ago to work as the education director at the Henson Robinson Zoo.

 

It wasn’t until five years ago, after leaving a job at the Department of Natural Resources, that he returned to state government as an assistant site superintendent for the Springfield sites.

 

But, Gilmore said, through all of that time he’s always had an interest in history.

 

“For the past 22 years, I’ve volunteered with the 114th, the Civil War group that’s in Springfield,” he said. “On Tuesday nights we always do the flag lowering at the Lincoln Tomb. So I’ve always had a love and a passion for history.”

 

Gilmore said history goes beyond just being an interest and is “somewhat personal.” His great-great-grandfather fought with the 53rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry from Ottawa, Illinois. The unit ended up in Georgia with Gen. William Sherman.

 

“When I got a job and came out here, I started to get into living history,” he said. “I remembered some papers my grandfather had passed on to me.”

 

Those papers included his great-great-grandfather’s promotional records to first lieutenant and then to captain. They were signed in 1864 by then-Gov. Richard Yates and Secretary of State Ozias Hatch.

 

“Now those hang on my wall in the Old State Capitol,” Gilmore said. “This is the stuff that really excites me, to find out more about history and the stories of people involved in these kinds of things.”

 

When he worked as assistant site superintendent, Gilmore also did living history demonstrations to move history beyond a recitation of dates and facts.

 

“We had a program that was called ‘Meet a Boy in Blue’ where we talked about what a soldier wore, the equipment that they carried, the food that they ate, the sleeping conditions that they lived in,” he said.

 

Gilmore also did programs about Civil War medicine, trying to find a balance between describing the gory reality of a 19th century battlefield hospital while not completely offending his audiences. Gilmore said he was able to explain how some accidents of Civil War medicine actually helped improve medical science.

 

Although historic sites are obviously steeped in history, Gilmore said history isn’t the only part of being a superintendent.

 

“This job is much more than just the historical aspect,” he said. “There’s a lot of people management and that’s really what I love about this job, interacting with people, whether it’s the staff and the volunteers here or the guests who visit the sites from all over the world.”

 

As Springfield site superintendent, Gilmore is responsible for the Lincoln Tomb, the war memorials in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the Old State Capitol, the Vachel Lindsay Home, the Dana-Thomas House and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. Gilmore oversees a staff of 11 full-time workers, six part-time workers and about 300 volunteers.

 

During the years of the budget impasse, visiting hours were reduced at the sites which caused a drop in the number of visitors. Gilmore said regular hours have been restored and “with that, we have seen significant increases (in visitors) at all of our historic sites.”

 

Gilmore said the superintendent’s job comes down to three things: ensuring the preservation, protection, safety and security of the sites; managing the staff from full-timers to volunteers; and ensuring guests have a meaningful experience.

 

“One of the things we do here frequently is to provide international tours for folks,” he said. “Some languages don’t translate dates very well. However, if you say during the time Abraham Lincoln was alive, they know exactly when that was. He is one that actually marks time for a lot of cultures.”

In dealing with guests, particularly international visitors, is learning how engrained Lincoln is to them, Gilmore said.


Rauners announce $1 million donation for Coliseum work
State Journal Register
Tuesday, August 14, 2018  |   Article  |   Bernard Schoenburg
Rauner, Bruce , State Fair, Fairs

Gov. Bruce Rauner Tuesday got a standing ovation from hundreds of people at the Agriculture Day Breakfast as he announced that he and his wife Diana, through their family foundation, are donating $1 million to help renovate the Coliseum at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

 

“The state fairgrounds is one of the greatest fairgrounds in the world,” Rauner told the crowd in the Orr Building at the fair. “We need to have this be a place of pride and ownership and celebration. We’ve allowed this to deteriorate over the years.”

 

Rauner and his wife also donated to the recently-completed renovation of the Governor’s Mansion.

 

“We want to do the same thing for the fairgrounds that we did for the Governor’s Mansion,” Rauner said. He said restoration would make the building “beautiful and proud again.”

 

Rauner also said there would be contest allowing school children from across the state to decide on the name for the Coliseum.

 

The building — home to horse shows and other events — was closed in 2016 when engineers found it structurally unsafe. John Slayton, chairman of the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, said the state Capital Development Board has estimated the full fix to cost $7 million to $7.5 million, but that doesn’t include $2 million to $2.5 million needed for heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. The state has allocated at least $7 million, he said, and the gift from the Rauners would likely be used for the heating and air conditioning.

 

The money from the state is included in $30 million allocated by the General Assembly this year for repairs at state fairgrounds in Springfield and Du Quoin.

 

Slayton said he is “95 percent sure” that the Coliseum will be open by next summer’s fair.

 

Prior to the governor’s donation, Slayton said, he believes the largest donation to the foundation was $10,000.

 

“It’s a very generous gift by a governor who cares a great deal about agriculture and the Illinois State Fairgrounds,” said Slaton, adding that he thinks the donation will spur others to give.

 

“Once we’re off the ground with this, we kind of become a player and people will be made aware of it,” Slayton said. “Half the problem is educating the public that there’s a foundation that they can donate, on a tax exempt basis, to and help fix the fairgrounds and take the burden off the state of Illinois.”

 

Rauner said he has been talking with other potential donors to the fair foundation.

 

“We’re talking to many folks and the conversations are going well,” he said.

 

The foundation website is www.ilfairfoundation.com.

 

— Statehouse reporter Doug Finke contributed to this story. Contact Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.