The week that was in Illinois politics and government (May 21-25).
Chicago and Cook County News
Monday was the last day of Chicago hosting the two-day NATO summit, and also the last day in a week of NATO-related downtown protests.
Demonstrator’s specific target Monday was the corporate headquarters of giant military contractor Boeing, who protesters noted has laid off 14,000 workers over the last three years despite profiting from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Boeing employees were told not to show up for work Monday.
We reported that the last day of protests were non-violent but tense. They followed a Sunday protest outside the NATO summit at McCormick Place convention center where police arrested 60 protesters, and about the same number of protesters alleged police brutality. PI reported on the march to McCormick Place Sunday, where protesters spoke out on a number of issues including education, labor and living wages.
Protesters opposed to the city closing six of it mental health clinics demonstrated outside Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house Saturday – the mayor was not at home.
The Illinois state police charged a handful of protesters with plotting to set off explosives during the NATO summit, under a state terrorism statute passed after 9/11. The National Lawyers Guild complained that the three protesters first arrested – for allegedly plotting to make Molotov cocktails – were sitting in 24-hour solitary confinement in a Cook County jail.
Major local news outlets pronounced NATO a success, despite the unsettled situation with the imprisoned protesters and allegations of police misconduct. The Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday ran the headline, “The City That Worked.” The Chicago Tribune singled out the work of police officers for praise.
One group not happy after NATO were restaurant owners, who contended they saw a major reduction in business during the weekend. Restaurant owner's experience call into question whether the city made money from NATO.
The perceived success of NATO plus a new revenue-sharing agreement between the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee brought faint murmurs at the end of the week that Chicago may, again, expend energy on an Olympic bid.
A Chicago law firm released a report Monday that, since 2003, the city of Chicago spent $63 million legally defending police officers accused of misconduct.
The Chicago Teachers Union is talking strike as its collective bargaining deal lapses June 30. The teachers union held a fiery rally and march in downtown Chicago Wednesday where CTU President Karen Lewis repeatedly slammed Emanuel to the cheers of about 3,900 union members packed in an auditorium.
A day earlier CTU Vice-President Jesse Sharkey suggested at a press conference that the union may have the required 75 percent of support from members to call a strike.
The CTU rally Wednesday eventually joined forces with a different cause – activists who surrounded the Board of Trade in protest of the CME Group, Inc., during the financial exchange’s annual board meeting. A broad coalition of advocates are upset that the CME Group, Inc. takes tax breaks from a cash-strapped state, even as the company raked in $1.9 billion in 2011 profits.
Cook County government and the Forest Preserve District, which is a different government body, are considering selling corporate naming rights for public spaces in order to generate desperately needed revenue.
The Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to conclude its spring legislative session next Thursday with Gov. Pat Quinn’s three biggest priorities – a state budget for next year, Medicaid cuts, and pension cuts – still not finalized.
State lawmakers will meet through the weekend, and may hash out a deal to cut Medicaid spending by $2.7 billion a year. As we reported Friday, the General Assembly successfully made major cuts to Medicaid – entirely gutting programs like a prescription drug plan for seniors – but had yet to clear a cigarette tax that would raise needed revenues to fund Medicaid.
The cigarette tax raise of a dollar a pack cleared the House, and is waiting to be heard in the Senate.
Safety net hospitals cautiously support the Medicaid plan hatched by Quinn, as it spares reimbursement cuts that were in the governor’s original proposal.
One state budget concern is child-care funding. We reported that while emergency funding was secured for child-care the rest of this fiscal year, the program would have stricter eligibility requirements next year, under Quinn’s proposed budget.
There are a number of consequential state legislative items that fall outside the Medicaid-pension-budget triumvirate and we picked up on some of these this week:
* We reported that a bill making it illegal for employers in Illinois to ask employees for their Facebook passwords cleared the General Assembly and now goes to the desk of Gov. Quinn.
* The Illinois House voted to end legislative scholarships, sending the bill to Quinn. The piece of legislation passed after strong debate by a 79-32 vote.
* For the second spring in a row, the Illinois House passed a major expansion of legalized state gambling against the wishes of the governor.
* A bill that would effectively halt a for-profit immigrant detention center in Crete remains stalled in the House. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) told PI Wednesday that he is incensed by the inaction of the Crete village board in taking a clear stance on the issue.
Unemployment dropped in most Illinois metro years from April 2011 to April 2012, according to statistics released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced Wednesday that he will step down from his post June 30, after spending more than 10 years in the role and leading the successful investigation and prosecutions of two Illinois governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Most elected officials, including Quinn, released statements that praised Fitzgerald’s efforts to tame political corruption.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing Tuesday regarding the first of its kind limits on carbon dioxide emissions for new power plants. News of the EPA’s proposed standards for power-plant emissions comes shortly after Midwest Generation decided to shutter Chicago’s two infamous coal-fired power plants.
We reported that loquacious U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-McHenry) let a constituent do the talking at a town hall – the Walsh supporter called President Barack Obama a communist and accused the president of sedition. Walsh generally supported the remarks. Walsh is locked in a tight, nationally-watched race with Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth.