Week in Review: Safe communities, cancer research, nursing home staffing & more


House Republicans Call for Repeal of SAFE-T Act After Pritzker Law Lets Violent Criminals Evade Justice. The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week on multiple cases of violent criminals not being charged for felony murder due to the recently enacted “SAFE-T” Act passed by Illinois Democrats and signed into law by Governor Pritzker. 

For the second time this week, Cook County prosecutors cited changes to the state’s felony murder statute as the reason for not charging a man accused of being involved in a deadly shootout that led to a murder.

On Wednesday, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said 22-year-old Tayvon Powe would have faced a first-degree murder charge prior to last summer when the statute’s changes went into effect.

“If this was prior to July of [2021] when the change in the law that went into effect, this defendant would be facing first degree murder charges,” Murphy told Judge Mary Marubio at Powe’s bond hearing. “ … He is not facing those first-degree murder charges at this point.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued the following statement in response to the latest Sun-Times report.

“For a second time this week, a violent criminal has escaped accountability for instigating a shootout that resulted in the death of a young man on the streets of Chicago. Governor Pritzker and his Democrat allies’ so-called “reform” has already destroyed the families of two victims and robbed them of the justice they deserve. Illinois is truly a consequence-free state for criminals. Repeal this law and restore justice in Illinois.”

A key criminal charge, “felony murder,” no longer exists on the statute books of Illinois. This criminal charge could, until only months ago, be placed against a person if a series of events took place and in that fact pattern (a) someone was murdered, and (b) the perpetrator is allegedly guilty of a felony. However a new law, advertised by Illinois Democrats as “criminal justice reform,” means that prosecutors can no longer charge an alleged perpetrator with felony murder. The new law took effect in July 2021.

Earlier this week, the Sun-Times reported that a man accused of starting a shootout that killed an innocent bystander wouldn’t face murder charges, after a grand jury cited the SAFE-T Act in declining to indict Travis Andrews for the murder of Melinda Crump, who was killed after someone shot back after Andrews allegedly fired in that person’s direction.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, along with his colleagues Reps. Patrick Windhorst and Dan Ugaste, held a press conference this week to again call for the repeal of the dangerous SAFE-T Act, citing the Andrews case and the end of felony murder charges as a key reason why the Act is allowing violent criminals to escape justice.

Chicago police to staff carjacking task force on a 24-hour basis. The carjacking task force provides a rapid police response to emergency calls reporting a carjacking incident. Upon until now, this task force has cycled from being on duty to being on stand-down status. With a recent and dramatic increase in Chicago-area violent crime, law enforcement now feels they have no choice but to permanently staff the carjacking task force and run it on a 24/7 basis.

House Republicans have spoken out against decisions by Illinois Democrats to reduce the rights and powers of law enforcement. Recent new accounts indicate that Cook County is headed for the highest carjacking numbers in 20 years, up more than 43% in 2021 over 2020.

Pritzker partially relents on mask mandate; HGOP calls for end to school mask mandate. On Friday, February 4, an Illinois court issued an active temporary restraining order (TRO) against the enforcement of school mask, vaccination, and testing requirements upon anyone who has not received individualized due process. The decision applied to 146 separate enumerated school districts. As individualized due process is not practical in a pandemic situation, the TRO was seen by many as a powerful step towards the end of coronavirus government orders and enforcements in Illinois. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed an emergency appeal to seek a halt to the TRO against the school mask mandate.

Further adding to the confusion, Governor Pritzker announced on Wednesday, February 9 that the Governor’s office was partially lifting the indoor mask mandate, effective on Monday, February 28, but was retaining the school mask mandate. The Governor also announced that the mask mandate would remain in place for congregate facilities. Questions were asked why masks would continue to be required in some Illinois public settings but not others. As of Thursday, February 10, only eight states – including Illinois – were continuing to try to mandate that school children wear masks.

After the Governor’s Wednesday announcement, House Republicans sent a letter to the Governor, stating that “the unintended consequences of your school mask mandate is doing serious harm.” […]

“We ask that you take immediate action to free our students from mask mandates and free our schools from the chaos your lack of a plan has produced across our state. We also request you immediately withdraw your appeal of Judge Grischow’s ruling against your school mandates for the benefit of all Illinois schools, teachers, and children. Please take action for the long-term education and mental health of our children.”

University of Chicago says new front opened in War on Cancer. Advances in human immunotherapy, the use of gene splicing to reinforce our immune cells, could create a new weapon against cancerous tumors. The use of chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, which are genetic molecules spliced into cells and injected into a patient’s immune system, is already in active practice for some subsets of cancer. The success of CAR therapy for some types of lymphoma and leukemia has created hope that this avenue of therapy can also be used against other types of cancers. For unknown reasons, however, for many types of deadly cancer this avenue of therapy is not particularly helpful to patients. These genetic molecules are fragile and do not last very long, and after they are injected it is difficult to know whether they are still there in a patient doing useful work.

New research published by the University of Chicago indicates the successful development of a new pathway for CAR therapy. The chemicals tested in Chicago are the equivalent, for CAR molecules, of the diagnostic devices that a trade professional use to fire up and test a car engine. A medical team will be able to draw blood from a patient and see which CARs are active and what they are doing. The research was partly funded by a foundation created by Charles Hoogland, the Illinois founder of the “Family Video” storefront videotape chain.

Survey says Illinois has the most understaffed nursing homes in the U.S. This finding, by U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is based on data gathered by the federal government’s STRIVE staff time monitoring system. The Illinois nursing home performance comes despite that fact that taxpayers pay billions of dollars every year to Illinois nursing homes for care paid for through Medicaid and other reimbursement pathways.

The Pritzker administration says that a complex scheme they have developed, under which they would levy a new $500 million tax on Illinois nursing homes and then pay the tax back as a subsidy for new staff hires and staff retraining, would close the gap uncovered by STRIVE. The complex proposal has generated competing bills in 2022 spring session of the General Assembly. Many nursing homes are deeply concerned about this proposal, and assert that bitter experience has shown them that they cannot count on their money circling back to them in the benevolent manner described.

One of Illinois’ longest-running construction projects may end soon. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOR) announced this week that, if they adhere to their current construction schedule, calendar year 2022 will see completion of their rebuild of the Jane Byrne Interchange. The junction ramps that bring together the Dan Ryan Expressway, the Eisenhower Expressway, the Kennedy Expressway, and the Ida B. Wells Drive will have been entirely rebuilt.

The Jane Byrne Interchange, which many Chicagoans call the “spaghetti bowl,” is used by approximately 300,000 motor vehicles a day. Two separate ranking charts have named this interchange as one of the bottom-3 worst traffic bottlenecks in the United States. Planned in the 1950s during the dawn of the Interstate Highway era in the United States, the necklace of spiraling ramps was quickly used by far more cars and trucks than it had been designed to handle.

Repeated pleas that the interchange be rebuilt led to a new construction cycle, which began with planning and design in 2012. The interchange’s reconstruction began in late 2013, and has continued for more than eight years. “Temporary” traffic configurations have become semi-permanent, and many Chicago-area motorists who commute to work have found the construction project in their way for a large chunk of their overall career lives. During the ten-year construction period, the official names of one of the drives leading to the interchange (now, the “Ida B. Wells Drive”) and the interchange itself (now the “Jane Byrne Interchange”) underwent official name changes. The complex construction work has included the construction of many new flyover ramps, and super-flyovers over the flyovers.