Week in Review for 8/11/14 – 8/15/14

Chicago – NRI
Call for disclosure of State budget games associated with troubled Chicago program. Federal, state and local investigators and law enforcement are looking into the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI). The troubled program, initially funded with $54.5 million in State taxpayer money in late 2010, was created to distribute resources to community organizations in neighborhoods, most of them located within Chicago and adjacent suburbs that were and are threatened by violent crime.

After reports by the Illinois Auditor General and the press began to detail serious questions about the program’s management – including documented examples of procurement activity just before the 2010 gubernatorial election and examples of money being transferred to persons with political “insider” status – the Quinn administration claimed to have wound down the NRI program. However, the Illinois House and Senate Republican staffs have discovered a series of successor programs, and have traced the continuing appropriations of State funds to these programs. In the FY15 budget, $20 million was appropriated by the Democrat majority to the Department of Labor for a poorly-described line item. As expenditure of this line item was being approved by Gov. Quinn’s signature, legislative budget analysts and members of the Legislative Audit Commission were learning that this ‘new’ spending program would continue to expend troubled-urban social work money in the same fashion as had NRI. Furthermore, as questions about the ‘new’ program began to rise, $11.5 million of the $20 million line item (more than 50%) quickly disappeared, transferred by the Department of Labor to two other State department also under Gov. Quinn’s control.

House and Senate Republicans united on Tuesday, August 12 to demand full disclosure of the continuing nature of the NRI program and disclosure of its ongoing cost to taxpayers, as well as any connections that may exist between current expenditures of State taxpayer funds and procurement decisions made during the pre-election weeks of late 2010. Gov. Quinn was elected to a full term in November 2010 by less than 32,000 votes, 0.9% of the total votes cast. Further information on the call for action by House and Senate leadership can be found at The Caucus Blog.

Chicago – Red Light Cameras
Former CEO of red-light camera operator firm indicted. The law enforcement moves were unsealed on Wednesday, August 13. Redflex Traffic Systems, an arm of Australia-based Redflex Holdings, is the camera operator firm; Redflex has installed and monitors more than 380 automated video cameras that have been hoisted onto street-view locations at well-trafficked locations throughout Chicago. Motor vehicles passing through the locations are photographed, and letters sent out to owners of registered license plates of vehicles spotted by the technology; the letters allege violation of Chicago city traffic ordinances and demand that the recipient pay a fine. Fine receipts are divided between Redflex and the city of Chicago.

Questions have been raised about the accuracy and validity of the technology that is allegedly used to pinpoint law-breaking drivers. The lack of any individual human witnesses of the alleged traffic violations adds to concerns that the technology could be misused to create a system to shake down innocent drivers. Collusion between Redflex and elements of Chicago city government would be required were such a shakedown system to operate. The Wednesday, August 13 indictment alleges that Redlex’s former CEO, Karen Finley, and former city manager John Bills collaborated in a $2 million bribery scheme. A Chicago Tribune news story on the indictment can be found here.

Downstate – Health Care 
New laws help rural first responders improve intensity of services they can provide. With increasing emphasis among medical care providers upon health care in the so-called “golden hour” after a cardiovascular event, residents of many parts of Illinois – especially Downstate Illinois – have asked for increased access to rapid, high-quality health care. A two-bill package from Galesburg’s Donald Moffitt, HB 4523 and HB 5828, contain provisions negotiated by first responders and health care providers to improve the quality of care that first responders will be allowed to provide and the billing codes they will be authorized to submit.

HB 4523 (P.A. 98-880) provides that if the Department of Public Health approves a service upgrade for an ambulance service provider that serves a rural population of 7,500 or fewer inhabitants, then the ambulance service provider is authorized to operate at the highest level of EMT license or Pre-Hospital RN certification (currently, highest level of EMT license) held by any person staffing the ambulance. HB 5828 (P.A. 98-881) creates a program of in-field service level upgrades for rural health care first responders.

Economy – Illinois Layoffs
More job losses in Illinois. State law requires employers to notify the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity of significant pending layoffs. This information is published monthly. The pending-layoff list for July 2014 includes several firms with historic ties to Illinois. The Jelly Belly Candy Company, which is moving production of its signature product line of jelly beans to northern California, expects to permanently reduce headcount by 66 from its former flagship factory in North Chicago. Kraft Foods, which is eliminating its private vehicle fleet, submitted its intent to cut 56 truck-driver jobs based in Champaign, Illinois.

Other layoff notices represent cutbacks in the 100-200 position range, of which the most significant by headcount is the pending closure of Jacobson Warehouse in East Moline, Illinois (137 jobs). Other firms announcing layoffs of 100+ positions are Comcast (Romeoville), Intuit (Arlington Heights), and We Clean Maintenance (Chicago).

Economy – Illinois Unemployment
Layoffs add to the total burden of Illinois unemployment, estimated at 6.8% in July 2014. The new monthly numbers, released by the Department of Employment Security (DES) on Thursday, August 14, represent approximately 424,960 Illinois nonfarm residents who are both unemployed and actively searching for work. In addition to this number, it is believed that hundreds of thousands of additional jobless Illinois residents have ceased to actively search for employment. In some cases, these individuals after layoff have involuntarily re-classified themselves as retired workers or persons with disabilities.

While the DES figures indicate that 35,600 new Illinois nonfarm jobs have been created as opposed to job numbers from twelve months ago, this rate of new job creation falls short of overall U.S. job growth. This indicates that Illinois continues to lose ground relative to other states. All of the 12-month Illinois growth tracked by DES was in the public sector and in various private-sector services; Illinois manufacturing continued to shrink in real terms, yielding 5,300 additional jobs from July 2013 through July 2014 on top of the severe losses in this sector suffered in 2008-2013.

Guns – Concealed Carry
CCL applications reach 84,000 mark. Illinoisans now have the right to apply for concealed carry licenses (CCLs). These licenses grant the holder the right to carry a concealed firearm on a pubic way such as a highway, street, or sidewalk. Most license applicants must submit a photograph, an application fee, and proof of completion of 16 hours of firearms-safety training. In addition, applicants are encouraged (but not required) to submit fingerprints. At the same time, owners and operators of many forms of property, such as a shopping space or public building, are granted the right to prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons.

The Illinois State Police, operator of the CCL program, reports that more than 84,000 license applications have been received. New rules to formalize the application appeal process have been put in place. A summary of the current status of the law from the Associated Press and the Rockford Register-Star can be found here. The Chicago Sun-Times recently published an interactive map with the county-by-county breakdown of CCLs.

Lottery – Revenue Numbers
Northstar Lottery Group fails to hit profit goals for third straight year. At a time of falling or inadequate State tax revenues for schools and other public purposes, public school districts supported by general State aid depend even more heavily on non-tax money for schools, such as profits from lottery ticket sales. With this in mind, the State signed a contract in September 2010 to partially ‘privatize’ the Illinois State Lottery by moving much of its operations to a private-sector contractor.

The chosen firm, Northstar Lottery Group, commenced innovative methods to increase ticket sales over a ten-year period. Northstar, a private partnership 80% owned by international gaming firm GTECH, pledged to sell Lottery tickets online and to perform other tasks that were expected to help the Lottery compete with other sources of gaming entertainment, such as video gaming and riverboat casinos. However, financial audits have discovered that during of the first three full years of contract implementation, Northstar has generated significantly smaller lottery ticket sale and revenue numbers than pledged. In FY14, which ended June 30, 2014, Northstar’s net profit – from which remittances are made to the State’s school funds for distribution to school districts – was $738 million, nearly $250 million below the targeted sum for this year.

Northstar’s under-performing (relative to contractual expectations) ticket sales, profits, and payments to the State have become the subject of increasing concern among State lawmakers of both parties. The firm has responded to concerns by pointing to various mandates and burdens placed on it by the State as part of the overall partial-privatization contact. A Chicago Tribune story on the Northstar situation can be found here.

Medical Marijuana
Online application forms available for medical marijuana patient cards. The move follows approval in July 2014 of the administrative rules that will govern implementation of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act patient application process. Patients will be required to obtain cards before being allowed to purchase cannabis at an approved dispensary.

While applications for patients and caregivers became available online on Friday, August 8, completed forms will not be accepted until a later date. Patients with last names beginning with A through L will be allowed to submit their applications from September 2 through October 31. Patients with last names beginning with M through Z may apply from November 1 through December 31.

The application process will contain several stages, represented on the patient level by the Patient Application Form and the Physician Certification Form. Physician approval, a patient’s fingerprints, and payment of a fee will be required for the application to be accepted. Those who complete the application process, either on their own behalf or as a caregiver for an approved patient, and receive approval for pilot program status will receive an identification card that should be carried at all times when the patient or caregiver is purchasing cannabis or cannabis products from a dispensary. The card will serve as a ration card and will contain information, tied to a master database, that will limit the quantity of cannabis an approved cardholder will be authorized to purchase. Approved patients and caregivers will be allowed to possess no more than 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis within any 14-day period.

The Pilot Program Act also limits the number of cannabis cultivation centers and cannabis dispensaries that will be allowed to operate within Illinois. Applications for dispensaries and cultivation centers are expected to be accepted from Monday, September 8 through Monday, September 22. It is expected that cultivation centers and dispensaries, which will be required to operate under heavy regulation and security mandates, will charge significant prices for the supplies they are allowed to dispense and sell.

9-1-1 – Communications Switches 
New Illinois law means that more 9-1-1 calls will go straight through. In some cases, such as when a person is staying in a hotel, their calls will be routed through a private switch service. In some cases, these services may require that a dialer enter a prefix before being connected to an outside line. The may cause confusion and delay in emergency situations when 9-1-1 is being dialed.

Firefighters and other first responders worked with the General Assembly in spring 2014 to pass a new law that will provide that when any new telephone switches are being installed anywhere in the state, the new switch will provide that when the three digits “9-1-1” are dialed, the call will go straight through to an emergency-response team. The law does not apply to existing, installed private switch services.

SB 3313 was signed into law as P.A. 98-875 on Monday, August 11.

Transportation – License Plates 
Cabello law provides Gold Star survivor status to bereaved son or daughter. A Gold Star survivor is the survivor of a person in the armed services of the United States who lost his or her life in service. Illinois license plate law includes a Gold Star motor vehicle license plate for these survivors.

Under the law in place up to 2014, the spouses, siblings, and parents of a person who died in our country’s service are Gold Star survivors who have the right to apply for and display this license plate. HB 5475, introduced by State Rep. John Cabello adds daughters and sons to the list of survivors authorized to display this plate. HB 5475 was officially signed into law on Monday, August 11 as P.A. 98-869.

Transportation – Traffic Stops 
New law forbids confiscation of a driver’s license as bail during a routine traffic citation. The law applies to offenses under the Illinois Vehicle Code, as well as petty offenses created by local ordinance. Under SB 2583, if a traffic offense is an offense for which a sentence of imprisonment is not an authorized disposition, the police officer making the stop cannot confiscate the offender’s license to drive. The new law applies to standard traffic stops such as speeding, failure to yield, running a red light, etc. It does not apply to misdemeanor offenses such as driving under the influence (DUI), a Class A misdemeanor for which an offender may be sentenced to up to 1 year in county jail.

SB 2583 was unanimously passed by the Illinois House by a vote of 116-0-0 and was officially signed into law on Monday, August 11 as P.A. 98-870.

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