Saturday, October 14, 2017

Why (Almost) No One Is Charged With Gun Trafficking in Illinois

Why (Almost) No One Is Charged With Gun Trafficking in Illinois

It’s how the laws are written, and trafficking is hard to prove.

by Mick Dumke

Oct. 13, 6 a.m. CDT

Oliver Munday, special to ProPublica Illinois

To understand why it’s so hard to stop the flow of guns across state lines and into cities like Chicago, you have to start with a simple, well-established fact: Firearms are legal products.

Guns aren’t like cocaine. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, most American adults are allowed to have them. That means there are millions of people who can acquire guns legally — and millions of potential sources of guns that may later be illegally sold, traded, loaned or stolen.

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Regulations and restrictions vary by city and state, and most are loose. As we reported in a story Tuesday, the majority of the guns seized by Chicago police were originally bought out of state.

But even when authorities know a gun has changed hands unlawfully, they often can’t determine its ownership history.

“What comes between that first sale and the recovery is the question,” said Philip Cook, a researcher with the University of Chicago Crime Lab and a professor at Duke University.

It adds up to what some officials describe as a kind of law enforcement version of whack-a-mole: Police and prosecutors spend significant resources targeting people caught possessing illegal guns — who are usually at the end of a lengthy chain of ownership — with little hope of thwarting the illicit gun markets.

In the face of a two-year spike in violence in Chicago, authorities have stepped up their efforts to prosecute gun offenders. Through Oct. 4 of this year, federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois had already brought more gun charges than in any other year over the last decade — with almost three months still to go.

But the vast majority of the defendants were charged with illegal gun possession, according to federal court records. In some cases the guns were allegedly brought to the Chicago area from out of state, but no one was charged with trafficking. The reason: No federal trafficking statute exists.

Local law enforcement officials, meanwhile, lock up thousands of gun offenders every year, almost always on possession charges. Like federal officials, they rarely arrest or prosecute people for trafficking firearms, though such charges carry far stiffer sentences.

While a state trafficking law is on the books, prosecutors say the cases are hard to prove.

Numbers tell the story:

Felon-in-Possession Charge Increased to Nearly 75 Percent of All Gun Charges in 2017

Without a trafficking statute, the "Possession of a Firearm By a Felon" charge is often the best tool federal prosecutors have. See how possession charges have increased to become the majority of all gun charges over the last decade.

NOTES: 2017 figures are through Oct. 4. Three cases that were filed prior to 2007 but reopened during or after 2007 are omitted. SOURCE: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. (David Eads/ProPublica Illinois)

The most common charge: being a felon in possession of a firearm, which accounts for 73 percent of all gun charges in 2017. The others: using a gun in connection with drug trafficking (17 percent); selling guns without a license (8 percent); and making a false statement in a gun purchase (2 percent).

Over the last decade, the portion of gun defendants facing possession charges has doubled.

Neither the ATF nor the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago would comment to ProPublica Illinois about their approaches to attacking underground gun markets.

Some federal authorities and lawmakers want to create another tool. U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, the Democrat whose district includes parts of Chicago’s South Side and some adjacent suburbs, has cosponsored the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2017, which would ban the purchase or sale of a gun with the intent to transfer it illegally.

She said such a measure would be critical for the Chicago area because surrounding states have looser gun laws than Illinois. Only three Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, though, and the bill has been buried in committee since it was introduced in March.

“It’s so frustrating,” Kelly said.

At the state level, Illinois prohibits both trafficking guns from out of state and gunrunning, which is the illegal transfer of at least three guns. But police and prosecutors in Chicago almost never charge anyone with those offenses:

  • Since 2007, nine of every 10 weapons arrests by Chicago police have been for illegal gun possession, according to the city’s reported crimes database.
  • During that time, Chicago police have made more than 27,000 arrests for illegal gun possession, formally known as “unlawful use of a weapon” under state law. But the police have made just 142 arrests for illegal gun sales — and none for gun trafficking or gunrunning — in the last decade.
  • Similarly, since 2013, Cook County prosecutors have brought unlawful use of a weapon charges 9,724 times, according to data from the state’s attorney’s office. During the same period, they’ve charged defendants with gunrunning 12 times, and they haven’t charged anyone with gun trafficking.

The Chicago Police Department works with the ATF to trace every illegal gun it recovers, said Anthony Guglielmi, a department spokesman. But most have been sold, stolen or loaned out repeatedly.

“They can be on the street for years,” Guglielmi said. People “don’t get rid of guns here. They bounce around.”

Federal laws limit the ability of authorities to keep records, so no national gun registry exists. Because each state has its own regulations, officials are often unable to determine the entire ownership history of a gun. Without that history, it’s a challenge for local prosecutors to show gun trafficking occurred.

Read More

How Chicago Gets Its Guns
It’s not big trafficking rings. Mostly, it’s through little guys like John Thomas.

“If a car is used in a shooting or robbery, I can easily find out, in a matter of minutes, who owned that car,” said Eric Sussman, a former federal prosecutor who’s now the top deputy to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “Gun laws are intentionally set up where there is no searchable database.”

Even when authorities learn a gun’s history, building a trafficking or gunrunning case can be tough. The cases take significant time and resources to investigate, and the laws are narrowly written — for instance, only residents of Illinois can be charged with trafficking here, even though most guns in Chicago come from out of state.

“You have to prove that they’re transferring to someone who’s not allowed to have them or they’re transferring them for illegal purposes,” Sussman said. “And that’s a high burden.”

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Boone County Board discusses the idea of solar farms

Boone County Board discusses the idea of solar farms

By Kourtney Adams |

Posted: Wed 10:23 PM, Oct 04, 2017  |

Updated: Wed 11:11 PM, Oct 04, 2017

BOONE COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) -- Creating a solar farm where crops normally grow. Some Boone County neighbors are on board and others, not so much.

Men with Cypress Creek Renewables gave a presentation Wednesday night to share basic information about solar development to equip the committee and community with more knowledge, to determine what they want to see as far as regulations for solar development in the county.

These men say they've been working to draft an ordinance to try to build two solar farms in the county, one along Reeds Crossing Road between Genoa and Spring Center Roads, and the other off of Illinois 173, east of Capron. The company has been sending letters to Illinois farmers throughout the region asking for $1,000 an acre for 20 years if they permit to their company. Some local farmers are concerned about losing farm land and agricultural jobs, but the company says this additional tax revenue could help the county and city services.

"The main concern is losing productive farm land. The site that they are looking at is prime agriculture land, we can't reproduce that. The plant comes in, it subsides in for any reason at all, who's going to decommission it? Who's going to take it apart?” says Capron farmer, Julie Newhouse.

"We've actually already held a few community meetings to solicit opinions, questions and concerns from neighboring property owners because everybody's so new to solar in the state, understandably because there's quite frankly just not much solar development, but we did it in an open process so they know that we're not trying to just stick shovels in the dirt as quickly as we can," says Cypress Creek Renewables Senior Developer, Scott Novack.

Wednesday was the beginning stages of talking about solar development in the county. The next step will be to determine what projects the county wants to move forward with. Newhouse believes we already have an excess of electricity in Illinois and don't need more.

Cypress is trying to build at least three solar farms in the region by 20-19. Newhouse says she hopes the county board will take their time with this decision.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trump administration ordered to enforce methane restrictions launched under Obama

Evan HalperEvan HalperContact Reporter

The Trump administration was ordered by a federal judge Wednesday to immediately enforce Obama-era restrictions on the release of potent methane emissions at oil and gas drilling operations on public land.

The ruling came at the behest of California and other states, which charged the administration is required by law to enforce the new rules intended to cut the release of 175,000 tons of the potent greenhouse gas annually, as well as reduce the emission of associated toxic pollutants. The rules took effect Jan. 17, just three days before President Trump’s inauguration.

The Interior Department had been delaying enforcement as it mapped out a strategy to rescind the new rules, which industry has complained are onerous. An earlier push by opponents of new methane restrictions to kill them in Congress fell short of the needed votes amid a backlash from environmentalists and landowners adversely affected by pollution from drilling.

The ruling was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the Trump administration, as the courts find flaws in its plans for dismantling executive branch actions taken under President Obama to confront climate change.

The ruling covers nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally owned land. The methane they leak is one of the most potent accelerators of climate change, 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. The new restrictions require the energy companies that own the wells to capture more of the methane and convert it into electricity.

The amount of methane escaping each year is enough to provide electricity for nearly 740,000 homes.

California noted in its lawsuit that delay in enforcing the rules was costing local communities, which are entitled to royalty revenue when the trapped methane is sold to electricity companies. The new rules are expected to generate as much as $23 million in such royalties nationwide.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco ruled the department cannot legally postpone a rule that has already taken effect. She was unconvinced by administration arguments that it would soon have different regulations in place. She ruled that the process of replacing the rules could take months, and ultimately may not stand up to legal challenges.

“No one is above the law,” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “As a result of this rule’s implementation, oil and gas operators on federal and Indian lands will be compelled to prevent the waste of natural gas.” He added that methane emissions “threaten the health of nearby residents and contribute to climate change.”

California’s lawsuit alleged that the administration suspended the rule five months later without reviewing any public comment or following the other requirements for such a policy change under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have been under intense pressure from oil and gas companies to scrap the rules. They say the cost of the methane capturing technologies would crush smaller firms, and that the bigger operations that create the most methane are trapping the gas already.

The warnings of economically crushing costs conflicted with Bureau of Land Management findings that the average small business with an oil or gas operation on federal property would see its profit margin reduced by two-tenths of 1% as a result of the rules.

While many prominent Republicans continue to rail against the methane restrictions, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, several conservative lawmakers have grown uncomfortable with the effort to kill the rule.

Some of these lawmakers come from states that already have strong restrictions on methane emissions in place. They are contending with pollution from drilling operations in neighboring states with more lenient policies drifting over their borders, undermining the efforts to clean the air.

The court ruling Wednesday was just the latest legal setback for the administration in its effort to weaken federal environmental rules. Approval of a big coal mine expansion in Montana and a major gas pipeline in Florida were blocked in court recently because the administration refuses to calculate their climate impacts and the associated economic costs. The courts also found illegal an effort by the administration to delay new federal rules requiring oil companies to pay the government higher royalties.

“The courts are once again — for at least the fourth time — telling the Trump administration that it cannot simply ignore environmental laws and regulations that are already on the books,” said an email from Kate Kelly, public lands director at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group. “The administration’s ‘stay and delay’ tactics, through which it is allowing industries to bypass pollution controls and dodge royalty payments, are patently illegal.”

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Solar power is the fastest growing source of global energy


Engadget Rachel England,Engadget 45 minutes ago

Solar power was the fastest-growing source of global energy last year, overtaking growth from all other forms, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The spurt is largely attributed to lower prices and changing government policies encouraging a shift away from traditional power sources, such as coal. China, for example, has played an important role in renewable energy's prominence, accounting for almost half of all new solar panels installed worldwide.

Many experts are heralding a "new era" in solar photovoltaics (PV), anticipating that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology up until 2022. In fact, the IEA has admitted it had underestimated how fast green energy was growing, noting that many countries are set for a solar boom in the coming years. India's renewable energy capacity is expected to double by 2022, overtaking the EU.

However, the IEA has said that despite these encouraging figures, there are uncertainties ahead. Donald Trump's pledge to revive coal has put the country's position as the second fastest-growing renewables market in jeopardy, especially if the US International Trade Commission were to impose tariffs on imports of Chinese solar panels. However the forecast for now, according to the IEA, remains bright.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Boone County considers solar ordinance because of Cypress Creek Renewables

BELVIDERE — Farmer Cheryl Sturges received a letter this summer offering $1,000 an acre for 20 years if she permitted Cypress Creek Renewables to put solar panels where crops normally would grow.

While Sturges had no problems refusing, she soon learned at least one neighbor had accepted the company’s deal.

Sturges and about 20 others are mounting a defense to ensure Boone County officials attach a long list of conditions to whatever rules they create for Cypress Creek and other companies that would build solar farms in the county.

“This is definitely an industrial use,” Sturges said. “It definitely is not a farm. That’s where our concern is. What happens if it goes belly up? Who’s going to take care of it? They’re creating jobs. They’re also taking away from the agrarian job market. I’m not totally opposed to it. But this is primary farm ground.”

She has provided the Boone County Planning, Zoning and Building Committee with two pages of concerns and requests that any new solar ordinance mandate the following:

• a decommissioning plan;

• solar panels must not contain hazardous materials; and

• “reasonable” setbacks that include buffering, landscaping and even fencing.

Cypress Creek is supposed to appear at the committee’s October meeting.

The company has been sending letters to Illinois farmers throughout the region. It has been working with Boone County so it can build two more solar farms, the first for Boone County — along Reeds Crossing Road between Genoa and Spring Center roads, and off of Illinois 173, east of Capron.

“If anything is done here, it needs to be workable with the citizens of the community as well as with the farmers,” said Denny Ellingson, the PZB committee’s chairman.

According to Hilary Rottmann, Boone County land use planner, the solar farms would be considered energy facilities generating 1 megawatt or greater. A megawatt is equal to one million watts.

She presented PZB committee members with a spreadsheet earlier this month that detailed how other communities have handled solar proposals. Some ordinances included landscaping buffers, noise buffers and fences.

For example, Kankakee County’s ordinance has decommission requirements including “removal of all development, restoration to condition prior to development, time frame of completion, (guarantee of) financial resources available to fully decommission site, (and) updat(ing) plan every three years.”

“It ultimately goes to the board,” County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said. “It’s very complex. It’s going to take a lot of time” to draft a solar ordinance.

County leaders have said they could attach conditions to any special-use permits considered for Cypress Creek if the solar ordinance takes time to finalize.

“We’re getting a lot of concerned citizens, but we’re not really getting a lot of protest,” Ellingson said.

Boone County has gone through controversial rules governing renewable energy farms before. Chicago-based Mainstream Renewable Power killed its wind turbine plans indefinitely in 2016, saying a more restrictive county ordinance made it too difficult to proceed.

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Congress Passes Measure Challenging Trump to Denounce Hate Groups

Congress Passes Measure Challenging Trump to Denounce Hate Groups

The New York Times logoThe New York Times

The New York Times

By GLENN THRUSH3 hrs ago

A white nationalist rally on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.© Edu Bayer for The New York Times A white nationalist rally on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate have unanimously passed a joint resolution urging President Trump to denounce racist and anti-Semitic hate groups, sending a blunt message of dissatisfaction with the president’s initial, equivocal response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va. last month.

The resolution passed the Senate without dissent on Monday and was approved without objection by the entire House on Tuesday night. It could be sent to the White House for Mr. Trump’s signature as early as Wednesday.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately answer a request for comment.

The nonbinding measure specifically singles out for condemnation “White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups.” That represents a sharp contrast to the president’s first comments after the deadly early August demonstrations in which he assigned equivalent blame for the violence on anti-fascist counter-protesters.

Mr. Trump denounced “hatred, bigotry and violence — on many sides” and argued that many of the protesters who staged a torchlight march to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from the University of Virginia campus were “very fine people.”

One of the counter-protesters, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a white nationalist demonstrator drove a car into a crowd. Two Virginia State troopers died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the violence that swept through the usually sedate college town.

The House version of the resolution, introduced by Republican and Democratic House members from Virginia, asks Mr. Trump to “use all resources available to the President and the President’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, introduced the measure as a joint resolution, which requires a presidential signature. Two Republican congressional aides involved in the process said the intent was to put the president on the record calling out white racism by name.

The text doesn’t include any reference to counter-protesters.

It also calls on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by White supremacists, White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and associated groups” and to “improve the reporting of hate crimes” to the F.B.I.

“What happened in Charlottesville was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a white supremacist, one that tragically cut short the life of a young woman, Heather Heyer, who was speaking out against hatred and bigotry,” Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and a co-sponsor of the measure, said in a statement. “We will be pressing our colleagues to swiftly and unanimously approve this resolution in order to send a strong message that the United States Congress unconditionally condemns racist speech and violence.”

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Illinois is a low-outmigration state, and other things you probably didn’t know about people moving in and out of the Land of Lincoln

Illinois is a low-outmigration state, and other things you probably didn’t know about people moving in and out of the Land of Lincoln

OZinOZ / flickr

In 2015, about 210,000 Americans moved into Illinois, and about 335,000 Illinoisans moved out of the state. The difference — a net loss of about 125,000 people — became one data point in a growing narrative about the “shrinking” of Illinois. For many people, Illinois’ net outmigration has become a leading indicator of the state’s political dysfunction, cited by observers to justify policy reforms on both the left and the right. The release earlier this year of Census figures for 2016, which showed a similar pattern, set of another spate of similar articles.

But while there’s no denying that the top-level numbers are troubling, the tight focus on just one measure of migration — domestic net migration statewide— has obscured a lot of other important patterns that we might learn from.

For example, close to a third of Illinois’ net domestic migration is eliminated by including immigration from foreign countries. Even more striking, focusing only on negative net migration ignores the roughly 300,000 people who have chosen to move to Illinois in each of the last several years, whose decisions about where to locate in the state might shed some light on what Illinois ought to be doing more of. And looking only on statewide migration — with a few zoom-ins to isolated counties — misses how dramatically different the migration picture is from one part of the state to another.

The rest of this post is an FAQ of sorts that seeks to explain Illinois’ migration situation beyond just the hand-wringing headlines.

Randy von Liski / flickr

Okay, more Americans are moving out of Illinois than into it — is that a new problem?

Nope. A recent report from KDM Consulting found that Illinois has had net negative domestic migration for close to a century: with the exception of a one-year blip in 1947, the last time more Americans moved into the state than out of it was 1920.

Partly, that result is baked into the choice to measure domestic migration. Illinois, like New York, California, and other traditional ports of entry, receives lots and lots of immigrants from abroad. Those people get counted as international in-migrants when they move to the state, but domestic out-migrants when they decide to move from, say, Illinois to Massachusetts. In other words, they don’t make the state look better when they move in, but they make it look worse when they move out. In Illinois’ case, including international immigration offsets about a third of the negative domestic migration.

To get the fuller picture — and because attracting international immigrants has been a crucial part of Illinois’ economic and social health for its entire history — for the rest of this post, we will include international immigration in our figures unless otherwise noted.

Anthony Auston / flickr

So does that mean this is a bunch of hubbub about nothing?

No, there really is a problem. While Illinois has had net negative migration for a long time, things have become decidedly worse in the last several years.

To be fair, some of this change was expected, as people began moving again after hunkering down during the economic insecurity of the 2008 recession.

But Census figures suggest that around 2014, Illinois’ net outmigration numbers suddenly jumped far above recent “normal” levels. In the years between the 2001 and 2008 recessions, Illinois lost, on average, a little over 35,000 people to migration annually. But in 2014, that number reached more than 66,000 people —close to double the pre-recession average — and grew to 83,000 in 2016. Over a decade, the 2016 level would reduce Illinois’ population by close to half a million people, compared to the old “normal.”

Jimmy Emerson / flickr

Are different parts of the state seeing different trends?

In a word: yes.

Historically, Chicago’s suburban collar counties have been the migration powerhouse of the state, hoovering up people from across the country and the world, while relatively few of those suburbanites ended up leaving. Cook County, meanwhile, saw huge net out-migration, as city dwellers moved to the suburbs. And the rest of the state hovered right around the break-even point.

The 2008 recession totally scrambled that old dynamic:

  • The suburban counties, which since the 1990s had been gaining 10 or more new migrants for every 1,000 residents, suddenly fell into the red, losing more movers than they gained by 2010.
  • Cook County, meanwhile, which just before the recession had seen a net loss of 13 migrants per 1,000 residents, improved dramatically. While it never hit positive territory, by 2011, it was actually seeing less net outmigration than the collar counties — a complete reversal of the usual pattern.
  • The rest of Illinois, meanwhile, remained roughly the same as it had been through the worst of the recession.

Since the recovery, things have not returned to normal. The suburbs have remained stuck at negative migration rates close to their mid-recession lows. Cook County’s migration figures are falling deeper into the red — once again below the collar counties, but still significantly better than their pre-recession levels. And the rest of the state, for its part, has actually seen a slow decline.

“The rest of the state” includes everything from Rockford to Carbondale. Can you be more specific?

Sure! Here’s a map of the change in all Illinois counties:

Looking at six of the largest downstate metropolitan areas also shows how much variation has gone into the broad trend of worsening net migration figures since the 2000s. The Quad Cities have had consistently negative net migration since the 1990s; Rockford and Bloomington, on the other hand, had strongly positive net migration until the post-recession era.

Jimmy Emerson / flickr

Do any patterns stand out in downstate counties?

You could probably match migration patterns to any number of demographic or economic variables. But one thing that stood out to us was the presence of public universities.

As you can see, since the 2000s, downstate counties with public universities have seen notably stronger migration than other downstate counties, netting about two additional migrants per 1,000 residents over that period. But they haven’t been immune to the overall pattern of declining downstate migration.

So why are so many people leaving Illinois?

Here’s the thing: Illinoisans aren’t actually more likely to leave their state than residents of other parts of the country.

That’s because “net migration” — what we’ve been talking about this whole time — is made up of two pieces of gross migration: Gross in-migration (all the people who move to a place) and gross out-migration (all the people who leave). Net migration is just the difference between those two numbers.

So bad net migration numbers can be the result of an unusually high number of people leaving, or an unusually low number of people moving in. And in the case of Illinois, it appears to mostly be the second.

In per capita terms, Illinois’ gross out-migration rate ranks just 29th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In other words, Illinois residents are actually less likely to move out than are residents of the median state.

But things don’t look so good when it comes to gross in-migration. Adjusted for population, Illinois attracts fewer newcomers than all but two other states: New York and Michigan.

That means Illinois’ migration problems are mostly about how few people come here, not how many people leave.

Okay, but some people do move to Illinois. Where do they go?

The vast majority, or 70 percent, come to the Chicago metropolitan area: about 44 percent moved to Cook County in 2014, and 26 percent to the collar counties. Champaign County, home to the University of Illinois, comes in after that, at a distant 4 percent.

How much does taxes have to do with it?

It’s common to hear that people leaving Illinois — or avoiding it by not moving here — do so because of high taxes. But generally, researchers find that taxes are relatively low priority factors when people decide to move, falling far below things like being close to family, job markets, and housing costs, which often make a bigger difference in total cost of living than state and local taxes.

In Illinois, some commentators have pointed to a Southern Illinois University poll from October 2016 that found respondents who wished to leave the state cited taxes more than any other single issue. But even in that poll, 73 percent of respondents named an issue other than taxes as the reason for leaving.

On top of that, as you’ve seen, the evidence shows that Illinois’ migration problem isn’t so much about people in the state leaving, as people out of the state choosing not to move here.

Another way of looking at this issue, though, is by examining the relationship between local property taxes and migration in different parts of the state. If taxes are a big reason that people are avoiding Illinois, you’d expect to see that counties with lower property taxes have stronger net migration numbers than counties with higher property taxes.

But in fact, there appears to be barely any relationship between property tax burden and net migration rates in Illinois counties.

And if you look at gross migration, the figures are even more striking. As local property tax burdens increase, gross migration per capita also increases. Counties with property tax burdens more than twice the state median see more than 60 percent more in-migrants per capita than counties with property tax burdens below the state median.

Okay, enough numbers. So what? What have we learned?

Every year, more people choose to leave Illinois than choose to move to it. That fact has taken on a lot of weight as partisans on all sides insist the only way to “stop the bleeding” is to adopt their preferred policies.

But what seems like a straightforward problem is actually much more complicated. Illinois has had net negative domestic migration for nearly a century. There has been a significant deterioration recently, but it seems to be driven by significant regional divergences: The Chicago suburbs, long a migration powerhouse, are no longer, even as Chicago and the Cook suburbs are performing somewhat better than they did in previous decades.

A closer look also shows that what has been interpreted as a problem of too many people leaving is actually a problem of too few people arriving. Illinois does not have an unusually high out-migration rate: it has an unusually low in-migration rate. While it’s of course worth trying to keep people from leaving the state, Illinois’ migration problem won’t really be addressed until we figure out why people don’t want to come here.

And while taxes are a common go-to scapegoat for net negative migration numbers, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that they are what’s driving Illinois’ migration problem.

What is, then? That’s still up for debate. But hopefully this post will help those of us who care about the future of Illinois ask better questions to get the answers we’re looking for.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rauner will borrow $6 billion to start paying off Illinois pile of unpaid bills

BY Kim Geiger and Monique Garcia Contact Reporter Chicago Tribune

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner announced plans Thursday to borrow $6 billion to work on paying down Illinois' massive backlog of unpaid bills, but he warned that he'll try to trim state spending in order to pay for the new debt costs.

The move comes months after Democrats and some Republicans gave the governor the borrowing authority as part of a budget they enacted over his objections.


Rauner initially resisted taking advantage, contending that there wasn't money included in the budget to make payments on new debt. Democrats dispute that, saying $350 million was set aside for that purpose.

Democrats tried to raise pressure on the governor this week, pointing to a late-August report that estimated that the state could save as much as $6 billion by selling bonds to pay down a portion of its about $14 billion backlog of bills. The report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability also estimated that the state is paying $2 million in additional costs per day on the portion of those bills that are accruing interest.

Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza sent out a statement Wednesday charging that Rauner's delay in issuing the bonds had already cost taxpayers $120 million.

On Thursday, Rauner said in a news release that he had decided to proceed with the bond sale after concluding that "it's better to have Wall Street carry our debt than Main Street Illinois."

Unpaid bills can accrue as much as 12 percent interest per year. The state can more than cut that rate in half, even with its low credit rating, by refinancing the debt in the bond market.

Rauner win on schools bill comes at a price

In announcing his plans, Rauner held out the possibility that his office could make cuts to state spending, though he did not spell out what programs would be on the chopping block.

"The legislature-passed budget did not account for the increase in debt service costs to cover the bill backlog bond issuance," the Rauner statement said. "The governor's office is identifying several hundred million dollars in possible spending reductions to address this budgetary shortfall. The governor also would like the General Assembly to return to Springfield this fall to work with him to balance the budget and enact structural reforms that could save much more."

Rep. Greg Harris, a key budget negotiator for House Democrats, said Rauner's read of the budget legislation is incorrect. He said $350 million was set aside to help pay for the borrowing.

The budget gives the state the authority to issue up to $6 billion in general obligation bonds that must be issued by the end of the calendar year. The money raised must be used to pay down expenses that were incurred during the two-year budget stalemate that ended in July. That's when lawmakers overrode Rauner's veto of the budget, enacting it.

Rauner vetoes bills on spending transparency, home health care worker OT

Harris, of Chicago, said he was glad Rauner decided to move forward with the borrowing plan, which he credited to pressure put on the governor by Mendoza.

"His delay has cost us over $120 million in interest that could have been spent on actual services to the people of Illinois. But instead, he has essentially thrown it into the middle of the plaza at the Thompson Center and lit it on fire," Harris said.

Mendoza, whose job is to manage cash flow in the state's main checking account, praised the decision.

"Refinancing our debt at a much lower interest rate — just like any sensible homeowner with a high mortgage rate would do — will provide payment for services rendered to thousands of people across the state and save Illinois taxpayers billions of dollars over the life of the bonds," she said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, Mendoza announced that she had released $541 million in state aid payments to schools, bringing the state current on two payments that had been due in August. They were delayed because of the fight between Rauner and lawmakers over education funding formula legislation. That dispute was resolved last week.

Above is from:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Mandatory Union Dues questioned

McCaleb: All eyes on Illinois case that could change U.S. labor law

U.S. Supreme Court

Shutterstock photo

Americans are back to work this week after celebrating another Labor Day holiday.

By the time the next Labor Day rolls around in 2018, the country's labor laws – particularly as they relate to public employee unions – could be dramatically different.

That's thanks to a lawsuit emanating from the state of Illinois.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide later this month whether it will hear arguments in the case Janus v. AFSCME.

Mark Janus is a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He fights for kids who get caught up in custody disputes or who otherwise need an advocate outside of their families.

As a non-salaried state employee, Janus was forced to pay fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union. He didn't realize it until he received his first paycheck and noticed a portion of his salary went to AFSCME.

Janus didn't like that. He and many others like him believe that being forced to pay dues to a union whose representation they don't want and whose politics they don't agree with is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Make no mistake: Unions, both public sector and private, are political organizations.

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The National Institute for Labor Relations Research issued data earlier this year that showed labor unions spent more than $1.7 billion on last year's election. That's more than George Soros and the Koch brothers combined. In Illinois, unions spent more than $35 million on political campaigns in 2016.

Janus and thousands of others like him essentially are forced to contribute to political organizations that donate to the campaigns of candidates they otherwise wouldn't support.

That's un-American.

"I don't see my union working totally for the good of Illinois government," Janus said in a guest column published in the Chicago Tribune. "For years, it supported candidates who put Illinois into its current budget and pension crisis. Government unions have pushed for government spending that made the state's fiscal situation worse."

So Janus sued AFSCME.

As his attorneys anticipated, Janus lost every step of the way as the case made its way through Illinois' federal courtrooms. In March, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down, opening the door for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. His attorneys filed that petition in June, and the court is expected to decide whether to accept the case by Sept. 28.

If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, Janus has a good shot at winning.

A similar case in California, Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association, made it to the Supreme Court in 2016. The court split on the California case, 4-4. But that decision was rendered after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died. Scalia likely would have joined his colleagues who ruled in favor of Rebecca Friedrichs, a California school teacher who also believed her constitutional rights were being violated by being forced to pay union dues.

With Neil Gorsuch – President Donald Trump's pick to replace Scalia – now on the bench, advocates for both sides of the issue are focused on Janus.

If Janus wins, millions of government workers who have been forced to give up part of their salaries to unions they don't support will no longer have to if they don't want.

Unions, essentially, will have to prove to public employees that their representation is worth the cost of the dues they charge.

And that's the way it should be.

Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network and the digital hub He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at

Above is from:

Push Governor Rauner to Sell Bonds to Cut Unpaid Bills


Illinois Officials Push Governor Rauner to Sell Bonds to Cut Unpaid Bills


Elizabeth Campbell

September 5, 2017, 3:34 PM CDT

  • Unpaid bills have ratched up to $15.3 billion, near record

  • State could save money if it refinances debt, S&P has said

Illinois governor Bruce Rauner

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Illinois officials are pushing Governor Bruce Rauner to sell bonds to pay bills left from the state’s record budget impasse, saying it would reduce steep interest penalties of as much as $2 million a day.

The spending package that the legislature enacted two months ago over Rauner’s veto authorized the state to issue as much as $6 billion of securities to cover bills that accumulated during a unprecedented two-year standoff over the budget.

On Tuesday, Senator Donne Trotter, a Democrat, urged Rauner, a Republican, to sell the debt to pay health-care providers and other state contractors that have had to lay off staff and borrow because they’re waiting to be paid. Comptroller Susana Mendoza has also called for the governor to sell the bonds.

“We remain in a political and fiscal crisis,” Trotter said during a press conference in Chicago on Tuesday.

Illinois could save money if it borrows to pay down the unpaid bills, some of which are accumulating as much as 12 percent interest, S&P Global Ratings said in a report last month. In the meantime, the state is paying about $2 million a day in interest on about $5.5 billion of unpaid bills that were more than 90 days old as of June 30, according to a memo from the Commission on Governor Forecasting and Accountability, which cited the state comptroller’s office.

Elizabeth Tomev, a spokeswoman for Rauner, didn’t immediately have a comment on Trotter’s call to issue the bonds. Trotter is a sponsor of the budget implementation bill that extended the state the borrowing authority.

The budget package for the year that started July 1 estimates an operating surplus of about $360 million, enough to cover debt service on about $3 billion of GO bonds with a 12-year maturity, according to S&P, which cited legislative sponsors of the bill. The bonds, which have a 12-year maturity, must be sold by Dec. 31, according to the parameters of the legislation.

The state’s bill backlog stood at $15.3 billion on Sept. 1, just shy of the record $15.4 billion reached in June, according the comptrollers’ office. Those unpaid bills include about $540 million of general state aid payments that will go out this week, and another $270 million that will go out over the weekend now that lawmakers approved a school funding bill, said Abdon Pallasch, a spokesman for the comptroller.

Marvin Lindsey, chief executive officer of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, and Leslie Rogers, vice president of South Shore Hospital, joined Trotter to urge Rauner to use the bonding authority.

“What it means to us is lost opportunity as you’re paying interest on loans that you did not anticipate having, that is sunk, lost cost that will not be reimbursed by anyone,” Rogers said during the press conference. “We ask and we need for the governor to utilize the tools in order to help move us forward.”

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

“Resident only” does not exist for public comment.


Question: Can a unit of local government pass a policy limiting public comment to residents only?

Answer: According to a recent PAC opinion, public bodies may not restrict public comment to residents only, as Section 2.06(g) of the Open Meetings Act provides that "any person" shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established by the public body

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s townhall in Dixon?

Not My Idea Of A 'Town Hall'

By Phillip LeFevre Aug 29, 2017





Phillip LeFevre's "Perspective" (August 29, 2017).

My idea of what a Congressional Town Hall meeting is about has been shattered.

I recently experienced my first Town Hall meeting in Dixon with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. The Congressman referred to the gathering as both a town hall meeting and a legislative luncheon. It became obvious that this meeting was rigged, with more than 99.9% of Dixon citizens not being welcomed.

First, there were beautiful pre-printed name tags for the "guests." And, there was a very short time given for attendees to ask questions. Questions that obviously were not to the liking of Kinzinger were blown off. After one question Kinzinger said, "Are you kidding me? This is a legislative luncheon!"

Secondly, I attended the meeting to ask the Congressman one question for a future WNIJ Perspective. My question was about whether he supports a new bipartisan approach to passing healthcare legislation.

I was not allowed to ask my question. As I began verbalizing the question to him, his staff began physically pushing and pulling me out of the way. Then local police deputies got involved, pulling me away as they said he was on a tight schedule and didn't have time for questions.

So, the experience of seeing protesters outside being denied access to Kinzinger's speech; to the pre-printed name tags; and then the shield put around the Congressman by his staff and police. The town meeting with this member of Congress was nothing but a staged and rigged event solely to appease supporters.

I'm Phillip LeFevre, and that's my perspective.


WNIJ Perspectives

Above is from:

Federal Transportation Board rejects Great Lakes Basin rail line

By Kevin Haas
Staff writer
By Susan Vela
Staff writer

Posted Aug 31, 2017 at 12:40 PM Updated Sep 1, 2017 at 12:11 AM

ROCKFORD — The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has rejected a proposal to build a 261-mile railroad that would have cut through the Rockford area as it moved through Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

In a decision Wednesday, the board said that Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s financial information was “fundamentally flawed,” making it impossible for the board to determine whether the proposal meets necessary criteria.

Construction projects are not required to be fully funded in the early stages of an application. However, financial fitness of the company behind a proposal is part of the application process, the board says in its decision.

Great Lakes’ assets “are so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources.”

Great Lakes may file a new application to meet the board’s criteria.

Resubmitting is an option, but we have made no decision whether we’re going to do that or not,” said Mike Blaszak, Great Lakes’ chief legal and administrative officer.

He declined further comment.

Jim Webster, a Winnebago County Board member who introduced a unanimously approved resolution opposing the railroad, said the Surface Transportation Board’s decision was “the best news I’ve had in a long time for the people of Winnebago County.”

The proposed freight line would have crossed through Webster’s district, and he said, “There was no real benefit to any of us here for that.”

Vicky Rowley organized an October rally against the railroad at her Winnebago Township farm property.

If GLBT submits another application, she plans to renew her protest.

“We were definitely not in support of it at all,” Rowley said. “I’m just so relieved that they didn’t approve it. It would have just been devastating for all the farms in the area. It was just unbelievable.”

Rockton farm owner Marilyn Mohring, 77, has been staying apprised of GLBT’s railroad plans via the Winnebago County Against GLB Railroad’s Facebook page.

“Just no” is what she thought when she first heard that more trains could run through her community.

She and her husband wrote letters of protest and also provided some financial support to stop the railroad proposal. They had concerns about noise, accidents and damage to creeks and wetlands.

“We just didn’t believe it was a viable thing,” she said. “It was going to disrupt way too many farms.”

Worried property owners formed several groups in Illinois and Wisconsin once they learned the controversial rail line might run through their communities. They included Winnebago County Against GLB Railroad and Citizens Against the GLB Railroad in Boone County. They wrote letters, attended meetings and informed neighbors.

Burritt Township farmer Lana Daly ended up being spokeswoman of Winnebago County Against GLB Railroad because of the potential railroad’s threat to her centennial farm. While relieved by the board’s decision, she plans to remain vigilant.

“It’s exciting to think that we’ve been part of the journey,” she said. “But I do think we need to be diligent. I don’t think it’s time to put down the torch and run the other way. It’s going to be ongoing.”

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

Kevin Haas: 815-987-1410;; @KevinMHaas

Above is from

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A $1,000 per month cash handout would grow the economy by $2.5 trillion, new study says

17 / 18



Catherine Clifford14 hrs ago


Giving every adult in the United States a $1000 cash handout per month would grow the economy by $2.5 trillion by 2025, according to a new study on universal basic income.

The report was released in August by the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Roosevelt research director Marshall Steinbaum, Michalis Nikiforos at Bard College's Levy Institute, and Gennaro Zezza at the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio in Italy co-authored the study.

The study made economic forecasts for three proposals: a full universal basic income in which every adult gets $1,000 a month ($12,000 a year), a partial basic income in which every adult gets $500 a month ($6,000 a year) and a child allowance in which parents get $250 a month ($3,000 a year).

The larger the universal basic income, the greater the benefit to the economy, according to the report.

A $1,000 cash handout to all adults would grow the economy by 12.56 percent after eight years, the study finds. Current Congressional Budget Office estimates put the GDP at $19.8 trillion. The cash handout would therefore increase the GDP by $2.48 trillion. (Vox first did this extrapolation in their coverage of the report, and Steinbaum confirmed the accuracy of the extrapolation to CNBC Make It by email.)

The $250 allowance would grow the GDP by 0.79 percent and a $500 a month payment would grow the GDP by 6.5 percent.

These estimates are based on a universal basic income paid for by increasing the federal deficit. As part of the study, the researchers also calculated the effect to the economy of paying for the cash handouts by increasing taxes. In that case, there were would be no net benefit to the economy, the report finds.

"When paying for the policy by increasing taxes on households rather than paying for the policy with debt, the policy is not expansionary," the report says. "In effect, it is giving to households with one hand what it is taking away with the other. There is no net effect."

The study is based on the Levy Macro-Economic model, which presupposes that the potential of the economy is constrained because household income is low. That opinion, even the authors of the study admit, is debatable. "Other macroeconomic models would disagree," the report says.

The idea of a universal basic income has been promoted lately by technology leaders and Silicon Valley billionaires.

Some, like Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, see cash handouts as a solution to the imminent threat of automation to the labor force. Musk has said that universal basic income will be a virtual necessity because robots will put so many low-skilled workers out of a job.

Others, like Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, think handouts could give everyone the safety net necessary to think like an entrepreneur. Zuckerberg touts UBIas a way to ensure people are not afraid to take risks to pursue the projects and business ventures they are passionate about.

Y Combinator President and Silicon Valley heavyweight Sam Altman has launched an initiative to study the long-term effects on human behavior of getting a cash handout. The research is still in process.

Even as the idea of universal basic income is being studied by and discussed among the tech elite, the idea is a non-starter in the United States, according to some.

Robert Greenstein, the founder and President of the Washington D.C.-based think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, called the notion too idealistic. "An effort to secure UBI would prove quixotic," he wrote in 2016. Greenstein says universal basic income is both too expensive and impossible to get through Washington D.C.

Greenstein offered one innovative alternative: "To be sure, there is a possible exception: a carbon tax that returns its proceeds to the public via a universal payment." But even that, he says, is more theoretical than realistic because he suggests that money reaped from a carbon tax would be better used to study alternative energy or to support those at the very bottom of the economy.

"If a carbon tax could pass, we might need to focus the proceeds available for these payments on low- and moderate-income families — so the payments would be adequate to offset the higher energy costs these families would face as a result of the tax — rather than extending the payments all the way up the income scale in universal fashion," Greenstein says.

Above is from

Great Lakes RR rejected by STB

Proposed freight rail from Indiana to Wisconsin rejected

Updated 1:59 pm, Friday, September 1, 2017

KINGSBURY, Ind. (AP) — A federal agency has rejected a plan to construct a freight railroad from northern Indiana to southeastern Wisconsin.

The Surface Transportation Board said Wednesday that the Great Lakes Basin Transportation's application doesn't provide enough monetary information and that the group lacks financial backing. The board said it can't proceed with the project because of the impact it would have on stakeholders and on board resources.

The group proposed building more than 260 miles of track with 26 connections to other existing railroads in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. The line would be able to support as many as 110 trains a day, according to the application. Construction was expected to cost $2.8 billion.

Great Lakes founder Frank Patton said it would take trucks off local highways and relieve railroad congestion in Chicago.

"A freight train can take 30 hours — more during periods of severe weather — to pass through the Chicago area," the application said.

That can result in addition costs for shippers, additional air pollution, delayed passenger trains and billions of dollars wasted in productivity, the application said. Adding another line would give trains an option to bypass congestion in the area, Great Lakes officials said.

Communities along the proposed route expressed opposition to the plan. Residents and officials were concerned about loss of farmland, safety along the line and drainage issues.

Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties passed resolutions against the freight train line.

"I think the STB did their job," said Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South. "The application wasn't sufficient and it's nice to see government work for the best interest of the people."

Great Lakes attorney Michael Blaszak said officials are considering their options in light of the board's decision.

Above is from:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Chrysler VP bribes UAW


Feds: Fiat Chrysler VP bribed UAW execs 'to take company friendly positions'

Tresa Baldas and Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press Published 6:00 a.m. ET Aug. 19, 2017

The intertwined lives of a UAW official and a Fiat Chrysler executive

Over a period of years, former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli and former UAW Vice President General Holiefield helped to save Chrysler and then stole millions intended for worker training, authorities say. Wochit


(Photo: Detroit Free Press photos)

It started out as a scandal about personal greed.

Fiat Chrysler and UAW executives, authorities said, were scheming together to line their own pockets.

But the scheme, they now claim, had another goal: Helping the company instead of autoworkers, and bribing union officials to get that done.

In an explosive document filed Friday in the growing Fiat Chrysler-UAW scandal, the government said former Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli was bribing union officials to persuade them "to take company-friendly positions."

This new allegation raises the question of whether or not the union's contract and other decisions were influenced by the wrongdoing, potentially undermining the credibility of the contract.

The phrase "company friendly positions," also could relate to how the UAW handled employee grievances, plant specific issues, holiday work and overtime work schedules, training, plant organizational changes and other plant programs.

The government, however, doesn't have to prove that contracts or policies were influenced to convict those charged. It only has to show that auto executives were bribing union officials -- a crime that prosecutors claim Iacobelli pulled off through various financial schemes. One of them, they said, involved giving union officials credit cards to go on shopping sprees whenever they felt like it.

The credit cards, they said,  were issued through the UAW-FCA training center, and paid for everything from designer clothes and $1,000 shoes to a Ferrari and swimming pool.

"Iacobelli said,  'if you see something you want, feel free to buy it. I don't have a problem if you buy it on the charge card,' " prosecutors wrote in a court filing today, adding this was part of a bigger plan to keep senior union officials  "fat, dumb and happy."

The details about Iacobelli's alleged motives surfaced in a new charging document that named a fourth targeted defendant in the case.

Both the UAW and FCA have previously said that the alleged FCA-UAW scam did not affect the contracts.

"It is important for you to know that despite some public commentary to the contrary, the allegations in the indictment in no way call into question the collective bargaining contracts negotiated by our union during this period," UAW President Dennis Williams said last month after the first charges became public.

Said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in a letter to employees last month: "This conduct had nothing whatsoever to do with the collective bargaining process."

Al Iacobelli, former Fiat Chrysler labor chief, right,Buy Photo

Al Iacobelli, former Fiat Chrysler labor chief, right, walks out of the federal courthouse in Detroit on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, with an unidentified woman. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)

Nevertheless, those involved were in positions to influence both contract negotiations and other decisions.

Retired UAW Associate Director Virdell King, the first African-American female to be elected president of a local union in UAW-Chrysler's history, was charged Friday in U.S. District Court today with being part of a conspiracy that involved the theft of more than $4.5 million in autoworker training funds.

King, 65, of Detroit, was a UAW employee who served as a senior offical in the UAW Chrysler Department from 2008 until she retired in 2016.

King was served as a member of the UAW national negotiating committee responsible for the collective bargaining agreements.

King's attorney, John Shea, declined comment.

Iacobelli, as vice president of employee relations for Fiat Chrysler, was the top official in charge of negotiating with the UAW and administering the contract and led contract modifications in 2009 and contract negotiations in 2011.

He was preparing to lead contract negotiations in 2015 until he was fired in June of that year, one month before negotiations were about to start.

Holiefield, as a UAW Vice President in charge of the Chrysler department, also led the UAW’s contract modifications in 2009 and negotiations in 2011.

In 2009, the modifications that Chrysler and the UAW made to their national contract were largely mandated by President Barack Obama's automotive task force. Those changes were made after Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and agreed too receive a government loan.

In 2011, the UAW picked General Motors as its target in national negotiations and model its four-year contract with Chrysler on the results those discussions.

But Holiefield, who died in March 2015, was a polarizing figure who agreed to some policies that many UAW members strongly opposed.

In 2013, Fiat Chrysler adopted a new work schedule at several plants that called for employees to work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

Holiefield brushed off workers concerns about the policy by calling it a "good problem to have." He argued that the the company agreed to hire more workers in return for the UAW agreeing to adopt the new work schedules.

Tresa Baldas can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas.  Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Open Meeting/Municipal Law Questions

Following Q & A are from the website of:

March 2017
What happens if the agenda for an upcoming board meeting was not posted online in advance of the meeting, but was posted at the local government's principal office?

Under the Open Meetings Act, a public body that has a website that is maintained by full-time staff must post all meeting notices and agendas on the public body's website. The website posting requirement is in addition to posting notices and agendas at the public body's principal office or the meeting place if different than the principal office.  However, if a public body fails to post a notice or the agenda of a meeting on its website, that failure will not invalidate any meeting or actions taken at that meeting so long as the public body had properly posted the notice or agenda at the principal office or the meeting place, as the case may be.

October 2016

Can we require residents to remove election signs from their yards 7 days after the election?

Can we require residents to remove election signs from their yards 7 days after the election?

No. State law restricts the ability of municipalities to impose time restrictions on the display of political signs on residential property

February 2016
Can a unit of local government reimburse an elected official or employee for entertainment expenses incurred while at a conference?

No. The Local Government Travel Expense Control Act prohibits local governments (except home rule units) from reimbursing any official or employee for any entertainment expense unless the entertainment is ancillary to the purpose of the program or event. "Entertainment" is defined to include shows, amusements, theaters, circuses, sporting events, or any other place of public or private amusement.

January 2016
Can we limit the total time for public comment at our city council meetings to 30 minutes, and each commenter to 3 minutes?

Yes, so long as the city council has adopted rules for public comment. In a number of advisory opinions, the Public Access Counselor of the Attorney General's Office upheld similar time limitations on public comment. The PAC cautioned, however, that in order to restrict public comment in any way, the public body must have approved public comment rules.  Having a long-standing practice of limiting the time frame for public comment is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement of approved rules, according to the PAC.  So, if your public body has routinely placed restrictions on public comment (time limits, sign-ins, e

December 2015
Can a city council or village board require an individual to register 5 days in advance of a meeting to speak during public comment?

No, according to a binding opinion of the Public Access Counselor of the Illinois Attorney General's office (PAC).  See PAC Op. 14-012 (Sept. 30, 2014).  Although the PAC acknowledged that the Open Meetings Act allows a public body to adopt rules governing public comment, it found a five day advance registration rule unreasonable because it "does not take into account the fact that the public has a statutory right to address the Board."  The PAC determined that the advance sign-up requirement "imposed substantial obstacles for those who wish to speak at the Board's meetings," particularly because the OMA does not require a public body to post agendas until 48 hours before a meeting. 

tc), it should adopt rules for public comment to incorporate those practices.

November 2015
Can a public body begin its meetings with a religious prayer?

Yes, but with limits. The United States Supreme Court has decided many cases on this subject but its decisions do not give clear guidance. If a public body wishes to include a prayer as part of its meeting, here are a few guidelines to follow so as to avoid conflicts with the First Amendment.

  • Seek out clergy from a variety of denominations and faith traditions to lead the prayer.
  • Include a statement at the top of the printed agenda which says that says that the government body "does not endorse religious faith. The prayer is intended to lend solemnity to the public meeting and invite an attitude of respect and consideration."
  • Request the cleric to speak in nonsectarian terms, not referring to any specific denomination or creed, nor advocating particular beliefs, emphasizing the purpose of the prayer as stated on the agenda. If the cleric does not abide by this request, don't invite him/her back.
  • Do not provide compensation to the cleric from public funds
  • Conduct the prayer before the roll call which begins the official meeting. Typically the Pledge of Allegiance is recited before the roll call; this would be the best moment for the prayer.

By: Paul Keller

October 2015
Are school districts subject to local zoning?

Yes.  The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that made it clear that school districts are not exempt from local zoning regulations.  In that case, a school district had installed bleachers at the high school football field that did not comply with the city's height and setback regulations. The school district argued that it was exempt from local zoning. The court disagreed, finding that although schools are exempt from local building codes, they are not exempt from zoning regulations and must, like other property owners, follow zoning regulations and procedures.

August 2015
A board has determined that closed session meeting minutes do not need to remain confidential any longer and wants to approve their release to the public. Must the board also release the tape recordings for those closed session meetings to the public?

No, the board can approve the release of closed session minutes without releasing the closed session tape recordings to the public.  Section 2.06 of the Open Meetings Act requires a public body to record its closed session meetings in the form of an audio or video recording. The OMA states that these "verbatim recordings" are not open for public inspection, except in an action to enforce an alleged violation of the OMA.  These recordings can be approved for destruction not less than 18 months after the meeting, so long as the public body has approved the closed session meeting minutes. 

May 2015
Our city council meetings are held on Tuesday evenings at 6:00 p.m. Is the deadline for posting the notice on the Sunday before the meeting or must we post it by Friday at 6:00 p.m. since Saturday and Sunday are not business days? Also, if Monday is a holiday, does that mean we need to post the notice on the Thursday before the meeting?

The Open Meetings Act requires a public body to post an agenda and notice of a meeting at least 48 hours before the meeting.  So, if a public body meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m., then the notice/agenda must be posted no later than 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday before the meeting, which is 48 hours prior to the meeting.  Because the Act references hours, and not "days" or "business days," you do not skip over the weekend or any holiday in calculating the time period.  A local public body could impose on itself a more restrictive deadline for posting agendas, but that is not statutorily required - the statutory deadline for posting the notice/agenda is 48 hours before the meeting.

April 2015
Can the majority of a quorum of a governmental body attend a conference without violating the Open Meetings Act?

Yes. So long as they do not meet as a group and discuss public business.

January 2015
What do I need to do to comply with the new law that requires us to post elected officials' email addresses on our website?

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly enacted P.A. 98-0930 amending the Local Records Act.  The new law requires all local governments and school districts to post on their websites a mechanism for members of the public to electronically communicate with elected officials.  To comply with the Act, a public body can post either a "uniform single email address" or the individual email addresses of the elected officials.  A "hyperlink" to the email address or addresses must be posted on the home page of the government body's website.  The law becomes effective January 1, 2015, but governments have 90 days to comply with the email posting requirement.

December 2014
Must a public body allow public comment at every meeting, including committee meetings?

Yes, according to the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s Office. In a number of recent opinions, the Public Access Counselor interpreted the Open Meetings Act to require every public body to provide an opportunity for public comment at every meeting open to the public. That includes all meetings of the corporate authorities (i.e., city councils, village boards, park boards, township boards, etc.), all committees of those councils and boards, plan commissions, zoning boards, electoral boards, and any other government board, commission, or body that falls within the definition of a “public body” under the Open Meetings Act. The public comment requirement applies to both regular and special meetings, according to the PAC.

June 2014
Are there prohibitions on elected and appointed officials and city employees accepting free items from vendors doing business with the city, such as tickets to ball games and events, fishing/hunting trips, use of condos during events/trips, etc.?

Yes, Article 10 of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, 5 ILCS 430/10 et seq., regulates the solicitation and acceptance of gifts by government officers and employees.  As a general rule, it is against the law for an elected or appointed official or a government employee to accept a gift from a "prohibited source," which would include a vendor that does business with the city.  The Act does contain a number of exceptions to the gift ban, including, for example, restaurant meals or refreshments that do not exceed $75 in value in a single day, political contributions, and gifts from one prohibited source during a calendar year that have a cumulative value of less than $100, among others.  An officer or employee can avoid violation of the Act by returning the prohibited gift to the prohibited source or giving the gift (or its equivalent) to charity.  Because violations of the Act can result in criminal penalties, officials and employees should consult with their municipal attorney if they have any questions about whether acceptance of a particular gift would violate the Act.  They should also review their local ethics code because some municipalities have enacted gift ban restrictions that are stricter than state law.

Kushner Companies subpoenaed over use of visa program

The Hill logoThe Hill

The Hill

 By Max Greenwood

Kushner Companies subpoenaed over use of visa program: report©

Kushner Companies subpoenaed over use of visa program: report New York federal prosecutors subpoenaed Kushner Companies, the real estate development company owned by the family of President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, over its use of a visa program that offers green cards to wealthy foreign investors.

The subpoena was received by Kushner Companies in May, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, and regards the company's use of the EB-5 visa program to finance a development in Jersey City, N.J. called One Journal Square.

It isn't clear what potential violations the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office is looking into.

The EB-5 visa program offers green cards to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in U.S. businesses that would create at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs for American workers.

The company launched a marketing campaign in Beijing and Shanghai in May seeking Chinese investors. That campaign promised green cards for as many as 300 people who invested the requisite $500,000 in One Journal Square.

Kushner Companies came under fire in May after Kushner's sister Nicole Meyer, a principal at the company, mentioned her brother's service in the Trump administration during a pitch to investors in Beijing.

The company later apologized for the remarks and said that Meyer's statement was not intended to use Kushner's work in the Trump administration to attract investors.

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