Week in Review for 7/14/14 thru 7/18/14

Audits – NRI Scandal
Commission to reconvene October 8th; more than 100,000 missing emails could contain key evidence in growing scandal. The General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Commission has opened a new round of hearings to further reassert oversight responsibility over the activities of the former Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA) and its troubled, Chicago-based Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) program. This $54.5 million, taxpayer-funded initiative sought to use social-work grants to reduce violent crime rates in troubled neighborhoods located within Chicago and nearby suburbs. A February 2014 State audit, performed by the Auditor General at the urging of Rep. David Reis and other Republican lawmakers, disclosed comprehensive failures in the fiscal controls and executive governance of the program. Meanwhile, violent crime continued to affect targeted Chicago neighborhoods.
As the program reached its procurement peak during the weeks immediately prior to the November 2010 statewide election, question have been raised about the motives used by key IVPA personnel to select program recipients. The Legislative Audit Commission has found, on a bipartisan basis, that the audit of the NRI program raises more questions than answers, and has subpoenaed key personnel from the former IVPA and the Office of the Governor to examine the underlying patterns that lay behind this procurement timing and fiscal/executive governance. Witnesses were subpoenaed to appear before the Commission on Wednesday, July 16 and Thursday, July 17.

The July 16 hearing of the Audit Commission left many of these questions unanswered, with most of the subpoenaed witnesses claiming their hands were tied by an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office into the NRI program. Counsel for one witness (Toni Irving) disclosed that his client physically possessed more than 100,000 emails and was uncertain about how many of those emails and related documents were subject to the subpoena approved by the Commission. Examination of these emails could detail how much of the program, if any, was operated for political purposes and what were the motives of its operators, but Irving’s attorney requested an additional 21 days to obey the subpoena and transfer a copy of this evidence to the Commission. 

House Republican members worked as part of the Commission to ensure that questions about expenditures of taxpayer funds are answered and the Commission is able to follow through on its statutory responsibilities, while respecting the request of the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois to defer witness testimony and interviews for 90 days. The Commission is scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday, October 8. Together with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney and the Chicago press are also continuing and intensifying their inquiries into the NRI program and possible connections between it and the November 2010 election. 

Grant Accountability and Transparency Act signed into law. Illinois became the first state in the nation to enact a comprehensive set of standards to ensure transparency in the management and oversight of state grant funds, Deputy House Minority Leader Patti Bellock announced Wednesday. 

The Grant Accountability and Transparency Act, signed into law by the Governor this week, strengthens and streamlines requirements for all state grants across all state agencies. The reforms include stronger state grant procedures to bring them in line with federal standards; improved conflict of interest disclosure requirements; and strict, real-time auditing of all state grants.

The new law is in response to a report by the Illinois Single Audit Commission, created last year by legislation spearheaded by Leader Bellock, which found that, currently, the Illinois grant process has no common application, no common grant agreement, a lack of transparency, no uniform administrative rules, and a lack of a State-wide non-compliance list. Many of these issues are what result in the ability to misuse grant funds. House Bill 2747 (P.A. 98-706) remedies all those current failures. 

There have been numerous cases recently of grant funds being misused, most recently including the Governor’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a program that received more than $54 million taxpayer dollars and was mishandled with no accountability and little transparency.

“Organizations receiving state grant funds must be held to the highest standards of accountability,” Leader Bellock said. “These common-sense reforms will protect taxpayer dollars from being abused and mismanaged while ensuring that state grants are awarded only for legitimate initiatives to improve the quality of life and opportunity for individuals, families, students, entrepreneurs and others in Illinois.”

Concealed Carry
State Police revises concealed carry application rules. The revision, announced Monday, July 14, adds administrative due process for persons who apply for a concealed carry license (CCL) and are then subjected to denial of their application. Current law requires the State Police to deny a CCL to any person who fails to meet the standards set by an appeals board, the Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board

Under the revised rules, the Board will be required to notify an applicant if his or her application is likely to be denied, giving the applicant a 10-day window to amend the application and refute the pending objection. State law gives local law enforcement the opportunity to object to a CCL application, and – if there is an objection from local police – places final CCL decisions in the hands of the Board. This jeopardizes the CCL eligibility of persons who have fallen under the attention of the police by being arrested but not convicted, possibly by means of a station adjustment or other non-conviction pathway. 

The Board will also be required to give future denied applicants more information about why their application was not approved. More than 200 of those already denied have filed a lawsuit against the State Police demanding the right to carry a concealed weapon and seeking relief from their rejected status. Firearms-rights advocates assert that 10 days is not a long enough period of time for applicants to rebut assertions and presumptions raised by local law enforcement. It is pointed out that concealed carry is a constitutional right protected by the U.S. Supreme Court. A Chicago Tribune news story on this case, which describes the new State Police rules, can be found here

Disabilities – ID Cards
HB 4422 adds persons with cancer to the list of people eligible for disability ID cards. Disability identification cards have sometimes been denied to Illinois residents weakened by cancer or chemotherapy. This new law adds “oncological impairments” to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for classification as a person with a disability. HB 4422 was signed into law on Wednesday as P.A. 98-726. 

Persons with cancer are already eligible for disability parking rights (P.A. 98-405). Patients should consult their medical care providers for assistance in exercising their rights under State law.

Downstate – Lincoln Library
Private-sector consultant’s report finds key Downstate tourism asset lacks long-term plan. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, the troubled library’s 501(c)(3) affiliate, had asked for a study of the Springfield-based library/museum’s governance and future prospects. The report, submitted on June 25, was carried out by Karen Winter, former associate director of the Illinois State Museum. 

Winter found that the Library currently lacks staff support for long-range strategic planning of the type demanded by many private-sector foundations that provide grants and assistance to U.S. historical landmarks. The museum’s troubled financial picture was seen as leading to a stagnating spread of exhibits presented to the admission-paying public, and parallels were drawn with the downturn in Library admission ticket sales. The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is one of the key assets of Springfield and Downstate Illinois. The Library is currently operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, a bureau of the Gov. Quinn administration. 

A summary of the consultancy report, published in the Springfield-based Illinois Times, can be found here

Economy – Illinois Unemployment
Illinois jobless rate remains well above national trends. The U.S. Department of Labor has reported that the nationwide unemployment rate dropped to 6.1% in June with employers creating a net of 288,000 new jobs from coast to coast, but the Illinois rate of 7.1% remained a full percentage point higher than the national average. Almost 444,300 Illinoisans remain officially unemployed as measured by their continued self-identity as members of the labor force. Hundreds of thousands of additional Illinois residents of working age, who have dropped out of identifying with the labor force, are not measured as being officially unemployed.

Illinois’ June jobless rate, in addition to being higher than national norms, is higher than that of neighboring states. For example, the Wisconsin jobless rate of 5.7% for the same month is 140 basis points lower than the Illinois rate, reflecting healthier creation of new private-sector jobs north of the state line.  

Education – Dyslexia
State to take action against dyslexia. HB 3700, signed into law on Monday, requires the Illinois State Board of Education to adopt special education rules that incorporate an international definition of dyslexia. The State Board is also encouraged (but not required) to convene an advisory group, provided that this can be done at no additional cost to Illinois taxpayers, to develop one or more training modules to provide educational and professional development to teachers, school administrators, and other education professionals concerning alternative pathways in the teaching of reading to persons with dyslexia. 

The chief sponsor of HB 3700 was former Assistant House Republican Leader JoAnn Osmond. The bill, supported by advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia, made Illinois the 23rd state to adopt a statewide law to improve the education of persons with dyslexia. The measure became law as Public Act 98-705. 

Environment – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
New rules approved to protect Illinois water from possible animal feedlot runoff. The new rules tighten regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations, the high-tech successors of yesterday’s dairy barns and hog pens. The farm operations produce animal waste which must be disposed of successfully. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) has overseen a negotiations process between the farming community and environmental advocacy groups to reach a largely-agreed-to package of changes to the rules governing the construction and operations of these farm buildings.

The new rules were drafted by the Pollution Control Board and were approved on Tuesday, July 15. Some facets of these new rules remain short of a final agreement, such as how steep the ground slope can be on which a concentrated animal feeding operational building is built. Negotiations are expected to continue on a follow-up rulemaking. The goal of the rules is to prevent the undesirable discharge of animal waste into Illinois surface water and groundwater. 

Law Enforcement
New law to help local police forces move towards 100% bulletproof-vest availability. With some police officers reporting not having been issued bulletproof vests, HB 5688 creates a series of incentives to encourage local police forces to move towards 100% availability. Federal and State programs help subsidize the purchase of this gear by law enforcement units that do not already have them and this new law coordinates these aid programs. Additional fines imposed upon traffic and criminal offenders pay for this program. In addition, some police forces have provided or are in the process of providing these vests to their officers through collective bargaining. 

House Bill 5688, supported by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, was approved unanimously in the House. Representative John Anthony was a chief co-sponsor. The measure became law as Public Act 98-743.

Medical Cannabis
New rules for medical cannabis cultivation centers, dispensaries approved; cannabis not yet available. Medical cannabis moved closer to operational status in Illinois with the decision on Tuesday, July 15 by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to move rules governing this new sector forward on the No Objection List. This technical move cleared these new rules to take their place in the structure of law that will govern medical cannabis in Illinois. 

The rules will buttress a three-part control structure for controlling and limiting access to medical marijuana in Illinois. Cannabis intended to be used for medical purposes under this pilot program will be required to be grown and transported in secure, guarded facilities that have been granted “cultivation center” permits by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) under this Act. A maximum of 22 Illinois cultivation center permits will be issued. This cannabis, once grown and transported, will be required to be sold in secure facilities that have been granted “dispensary” permits by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DFPR) under this Act. A maximum of 60 dispensary permits will be issued. No dispensary will be allowed to be sited within 1,000 feet of a school or day-care center.

No cannabis is available yet in Illinois under these new rules. Patients should check with their medical professionals to determine if their diagnoses meet the criteria required for eligibility. Eligible persons will be eligible to apply, under the supervision of and with the consent of their medical care providers, for Medical Cannabis Registry Identification Cards. Patients with a last name starting from A through L can apply during September through October 2014, and patients with last names starting from M through Z can apply from November through December 2014. Persons with these cards will be allowed to enter a dispensary and purchase cannabis or cannabis products. 

O’Hare Airport
McAuliffe circulates petition against airport noise. On Monday, July 14, Representative Michael McAuliffe began circulating a petition against threats to the environment and the quality of life enjoyed by neighbors of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. 

The petition asks the federal government to hold one or more hearings so that local residents can describe the impact of the current O’Hare expansion project. The airport’s neighbors also request that a new noise and environmental impact study, separate from the pre-expansion study published in 2004, be conducted to collect and measure the impact of airport takeoff and landing noise at the airport. McAuliffe’s petition concludes by calling for the swift expansion of a slow-moving sound insulation program funded by passenger fees and dedicated to mitigation of noise impacts on local residents, workers, and schoolchildren. Nothing in the petition attacks O’Hare Airport or the jobs that it creates for Illinois.

Transportation – Dangerous Truck Operations
Action taken to remove dangerous truck drivers from road. The new law signed Wednesday, July 16, is part of a nationwide crackdown on dangerous heavy truck operations. It provides that an employer or truck operator shall not allow or require an employee to drive a heavy truck in Illinois if he or she should reasonably know that the employee has been subject to licensure discipline in any state, or has lost his or her truck-driving privileges in any state. Under prior law, a truck driver could be disciplined for dangerous driving practices in one state and could then hypothetically move to another state (such as Illinois) and begin driving again. 

The Secretary of State’s office worked on this bill with the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Other states are enacting parallel legislation. HB 4386 was signed into law on Wednesday as Public Act 98-722. 

Week in Review
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