S4: News and Politics

The Republican-led House Rules Committee decided to change the rules concerning amendments that can be filed to spending bills. The goal, Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said, is to prevent “poison pill” amendments that have little to do with the content of the bills in question. Recent amendments concerning transgender and LGBT rights prompted Republican leadership to make this change, which the top Democrat on the Rules Committee said “shut[s] out the voice of half of this country.” Rep. Sessions insists he “intend[s] to be fair about this process” and wants to prevent poison pill amendments from both parties. Beginning next week, all amendments to spending bills will need to be vetted by the Rules Committee before being considered and voted on. Read more in Morning Consult.



Sen. John McCain’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have increased military spending failed to pass the Senate yesterday. Sen. McCain’s amendment would have broken the bipartisan budget agreement reached last year by using the Pentagon war fund, which is not subject to spending caps, to increase military spending. In response to this amendment, Democrats filed an amendment that would match the military increase with increases in domestic spending, like funding Zika virus initiatives and opioid abuse. The Senate voted against considering both amendments. Read more in Morning Consult.



Over 40 Republican senators are behind a resolution to block the Department of Labor’s rule expanding overtime pay to salaried workers earning under $47,476 per year. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who introduced the resolution, frames it as an effort to protect “mid-management and professional employees” from reduced hours. Legislators could also use the appropriations process to remove funding for the rule, though President Obama would veto either attempt if it passed both houses. Read more in Morning Consult.



President Obama vetoed a resolution to block another Department of Labor rule, known as the ‘fiduciary rule’ affecting retirement investment advice. As mentioned here last week, the US Chamber of Commerce and several other financial interest groups want to prevent the new regulations from expanding the types of retirement investment advice covered by fiduciary protections, which require advisors to put their clients’ interests first. President Obama said the new regulation “reflects extensive feedback from Members of Congress, and has been streamlined to reduce the compliance burden and ensure continued access to advice, while maintaining an enforceable best interest standard that protects consumers.” Opponents like Republican Rep. Phil Roe, on the other hand, feel that the rule “threatens the retirement security of millions of working families.” Read more in Morning Consult.



Legislation to overhaul chemical regulations passed the Senate. The bill reauthorizes the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and gives the Environmental Protection Agency more oversight authority over potentially toxic chemicals. The bill will affect thousands of chemicals, most of which the average American is not even aware come with risks, Sen. Jeff Merkley pointed out. Sen. David Vitter, who co-authored the bill, said, “I’m so very glad to have passed a law that strengthens our country’s international competitiveness, provides desperately needed regulatory certainty for industry and mandates that the federal government use better science and provide more transparency.” Read more in the Washington Post.



The House passed a bill to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, and the White House is urging the Senate to pass it quickly. The Wall Street Journal calls it a “technically complex compromise measure” that allows a federal oversight board “to determine whether and when to initiate court-supervised debt restructuring” for the country. Puerto Rico is in a difficult spot, unable to go to the International Monetary Fund for aid because it is not an independent country, and unable to file for federal bankruptcy protections because it is not a US state. This bill, which passed with majorities from both sides of the aisle, should help reduce Puerto Rico’s debt burden and prevent “a messy courtroom brawl between different creditors and the government.” Read more.



Sen. Rand Paul plans to introduce legislation to end the selective service, the federal government program that replaced the draft. He is billing it as a tribute to the late Muhammad Ali, who famously refused to serve in Vietnam. “One of the things I liked about Muhammad Ali is that he would stand on principle even when it was unpopular,” Sen. Paul said. “Selective service had a racial disparity, because a lot of rich white kids either got a deferment or went to college or got out of the draft. So I’m opposed to Selective Service.” Read more in the Washington Post.



The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse surveyed Affordable Care Act (ACA) benchmark insurance plans and found that over two-thirds of them do not meet federal requirements for coverage of addiction disorder treatment. The plans they surveyed are known as Essential Health Benefits plans, which represent the minimum level of coverage in state exchange plans. These plans are required to cover addiction treatment without restrictions, but the law leaves many of the specifics up to states. Even taking into account state discretion for treatment options, many plans are in direct violation of the ACA. Read more in Modern Healthcare. 




The governor, mayor of Chicago, and legislative leaders have all been involved in exaggerated rhetoric and even name-calling this week, while a group of rank-and-file legislators continues to try to pull together a term budget compromise. Mayor Emanuel and Chicago legislators were livid when Gov. Rauner referred to some Chicago public schools as “crumbling prisons” that should not receive any more money. Senate President John Cullerton admitted it has been difficult to work with the governor “when he’s embarked on a scorched earth tour of Illinois,” and his rhetoric has been hampering budget negotiations. Speaker Madigan has lately taken to accusing the governor of putting “office supplies” over “life-saving services” because of his insistence that state operations be included in the stopgap budget. Needless to say, campaign season has started, and budget negotiations are taking a hit because of it. Read more in the State Journal Register.



Speaking of campaigns, Gov. Rauner’s chief of staff Mike Zolnierowicz is moving over to direct Republican legislative campaigns. He will be replaced by the governor’s current chief legislative liaison, Richard Goldberg, who has earned an unfavorable reputation among Democratic legislators for his scathing public comments. As Natasha Korecki writes in Politico Illinois today, “Shifting into war mode now doesn’t bode well for what’s up ahead over the next few months.”



Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Illinois’s credit rating again, leaving it only two notches above junk status. This means the state will need to pay more to borrow the $550 million it plans to seek this month. Moody’s wrote in its report, “The rating downgrade reflects continuing budget imbalance due to political gridlock that for more than a year has kept Illinois from addressing revenue lost due to income tax cuts that took effect in January 2015.” Standard & Poor’s Financial Services also downgraded the state’s credit. Unsurprisingly, Gov. Rauner and Speaker Madigan each blame the other for the downgrade. Read more in the Tribune.



Illinois owes the FBI $3 million for fingerprint and background checks, and this debt may soon be taken up by the US Treasury Department. According to the Associated Press, the state has already set aside more than enough money to cover the debt, but there is no legislative appropriation allowing the money to be paid. The FBI does not plan to stop serving Illinois, calling it “a public-safety issue,” but the agency will be looking for “alternative collection and processing options.” Read more in the State Journal-Register.



Democrats may have a Kennedy to endorse against Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018: businessman Chris Kennedy. Kennedy recently met with Mayor Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Senate President John Cullerton, and he shows more interest in running than he has in years past. Former Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, US Sen. Dick Durbin, state Treasurer Mike Frerichs, state Sen. Heather Steans, and businessman JB Pritzker may also run. One of Kennedy’s draws, especially in a competition with the famously wealthy Gov. Rauner, is his extensive family wealth and network. Because of Kennedy’s long history of showing interest but failing to run for office, however, Politico reporter Natasha Korecki warns, “Kennedy has potential to be a formidable Rauner opponent, but Democrats would be wise to wait until he actually files paperwork with the state board of elections before getting too excited.” Read more in Crain’s.



Polls show that Chicago is the only part of the state that blames Gov. Rauner over Speaker Madigan for the ongoing budget impasse, while in the rest of the state a majority of voters from all parties blames Speaker Madigan.


US Sen. Mark Kirk rescinded his endorsement of Donald Trump this week, saying, “”I have spent my life building bridges and tearing down barriers – not building walls… It is absolutely essential that we are guided by a commander-in-chief with a responsible and proper temperament, discretion and judgment… After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world.” Read more.


New York


Gov. Cuomo ordered state agencies to divest from organizations that support a boycott against Israel, known as the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you,” the governor said in a speech last weekend. There is pending legislation that would have a similar effect, but Gov. Cuomo wanted to take “immediate action” on the issue. Read more in the New York Times.



Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito came to an agreement on the city budget. The Mayor said, “This budget is a real achievement in terms of the things it will do for the people of New York City, but also because it represents government that’s cooperative and productive and respectful.” Lawmakers are expected to pass the $82.1 billion budget next week. Read more in City & State.



Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan cited the investigations into Mayor de Blasio’s campaign financing as a reason he will not heed the mayor’s request to extend mayoral control over New York City public schools for more than one year. “In light of the questions that remain over how Mayor de Blasio intends to lift up failing schools . . . not to mention the multiple investigations into the mayor and his administration — I have deep reservations over signing off on a longer extension,” Flanagan said. Read more.


New Jersey
“Only in government can an agency with a more than $1 billion budget shortfall over the next two years attempt to take over a city that has a mere $100 million budget deficit.” This is one reporter’s take on the state’s insistence that Atlantic City produce a balanced budget within the next several months or face a state takeover. Read more here.



Although the legislation has been signed, Atlantic City has yet to receive a bridge loan from the state. Mayor Don Guardian said unless the money comes in soon, the city will need to take money out of its capital and terminal-leave funds, which requires state permission. Read more.



The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gov. Christie’s 2011 pension reforms, which froze retirees cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to save over $17 billion. Several public unions had argued that the state was contractually obliged to pay the annual increases because it was a “nonforfeitable” right, but the court decided that there was no clear legislative intent to guarantee this right. Although this ruling is certainly a victory for the state and will save considerable money for the pension system, the fund still faces difficulties. Read more in Politico New Jersey.



Republican Sen. Steve Oroho proposed a plan to fund the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) with a 20-cent gas tax hike, offset by an income tax credit for gasoline purchases. Democrats have been calling for a solution to TTF funding for quite some time, but Gov. Christie and most Republican legislators have opposed raising the gas tax. Sen. Oroho points out that raising the gas tax will share the burden with out-of-state drivers, who pay over 30% of the tax, according to AAA New Jersey. Sen. Oroho’s proposal could be the compromise that saves the state’s transportation infrastructure, though some Republicans are still campaigning against any increase to the gas tax. Read more details here.



Inpatient treatment for substance abuse is in crisis in New Jersey. The state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services reports that the state is funding barely half of the inpatient substance abuse treatment beds for the poor as it did in 2010, despite a growing waitlist. State-funded outpatient treatment has increased, and the state cites “national trends and best practices” that encourage outpatient treatment over inpatient treatment, though the efficacy of one over the other has yet to be agreed upon. Meanwhile, more and more inpatient treatment options are run by for-profit entities that target wealthy individuals. Heroin users seeking treatment are more likely to be poor, homeless, and unemployed, and thus dependent on the state to provide treatment. Gov. Christie proposed raising the reimbursement rate for long-term residential treatment, which could make providing inpatient services to the poor more attractive to for-profit providers. In the meantime, though, indigent addicts face few options. Read more.



Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov in Lakewood filed a complaint with a federal judge over Ocean Township’s second denial of its application to renovate an existing day school into a yeshiva. The school currently serves kindergarten through fifth grade day students, and Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov has applied to turn it into a boarding academy for 96 men. The group accuses the Ocean Township Zoning Board of violating its constitutional rights, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Fair Housing Act in denying the request. According to the Zoning Board, the application was denied because of the number of adults the group wants to house on the property, and because the restrictions placed on the students would place an undue burden on the township to enforce them. A federal judge is expected to have final say on the matter in July. Read more.



Sens. Nicholas Scutari and Joseph Vitale introduced S 2345 to add PTSD to the list of medical conditions treatable with medical marijuana.


Gov. Kasich signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio on Wednesday. The governor’s office did not issue any comments, but the law will go into effect in early September. While it will likely be at least a year until dispensaries are up and running in the state, individuals with written permission from their doctors will have an “affirmative defense” against any prosecution for marijuana possession. The new law still prohibits smoking marijuana, but oils, tinctures, patches, and edibles will be permitted. This restriction could make producing marijuana products more profitable, since the drug will only be legal in these more processed forms. Read more details here.



A proposal to raise Cleveland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is not going over well with local, state, or national officials. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and City Council President Kevin Kelley have sent letters to state and federal legislators asking them to denounce the proposal, which would leave the rest of the state’s minimum wage at $8.10 per hour and could hurt Cleveland’s economic prospects. The letter states, “We continue to support a minimum wage increase if mandated by the state or federal government but not just for the City of Cleveland.” US Sen. Sherrod Brown expressed support for a move toward a $15 minimum wage, but he did not specifically support or denounce the Cleveland proposal.Read more.



Ohio is $503.3 million, or 2.5%, behind its revenue projections for the fiscal year ending next month. May collections came in almost 17% below projections, though budget director Tim Keen says things are not as bad as they seem. Some tax deadlines were extended until next month, when he expects the numbers to even out. Spending will also decrease by 1% for most of the next fiscal year, primarily from reduced Medicaid spending. Read more in the Toledo Blade.



The Ohio Department of Transportation (DOT) stands to gain about $38 million in previously-unusable earmarks, funding included in federal budgets for very specific purposes in legislators’ home states. Earmarks have been banned since 2010, but much of this funding has simply been in limbo since then, already allocated in previous budget bills but not distributed. For example, $6 million was allocated for a ferry terminal in Cleveland, but the ferry terminal was never built and thus the money never spent. Thanks to a law passed at the end of last year, the federal DOT can now redirect the $2 billion it has in unspent earmarks, provided that new projects meet federal transportation-funding rules. State DOTs will decide which projects to apply for, based on location and need. Read more.



Tea Party candidate Warren Davidson won the special election for former US House Speaker John Boehner’s seat after beating 14 other Republicans in the March primary. Amber Phillips writes in the Washington Post, “Congressional conservatives and their outside backers can now reasonably claim they won two battles against Boehner: They played a role in forcing his retirement last fall, and then they won the seat he vacated this spring.” Rep. Davidson was sworn in yesterday and invited into the House Freedom Caucus, the hardline conservative group that reportedly has about 40 members. Read more.


Indiana’s newest Supreme Court justice was sworn in this week and will hear his first oral arguments on the Court onJune 23rd. Gov. Pence appointed Indianapolis attorney Geoffrey Slaughter to succeed retiring Justice Brent Dickson.Read more.


Gov. Dayton did not sign the extensive tax bill presented by legislators, killing the bill and leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits, exemptions and deductions up in the air. The governor said he supported the bill except for one section he referred to as an error: a provision meant to help bingo halls with a $1.5 million tax exemption could have turned into a $101 million disaster because the drafters wrote “or” instead of “and.” Legislators are hoping the governor agrees to a special session to finalize several pieces of legislation, including transportation funding. Read more.

S4 Updates: News and Politics

After several divisive and highly publicized debates over cultural and civil rights issues brought about by amendments to spending bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the process. Cristina Marcos explains in The Hill, “House Republican leaders have been blindsided multiple times by Democrats offering politically volatile amendments to appropriations bills. Starting as soon as next month, Ryan is expected to make it harder for the minority party to attempt to embarrass the majority.” Plans include requiring amendments to be submitted and made public ahead of time, allowing all members- and the public- time to strategize before debating and voting. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi derided the the proposal and accused the Speaker of abandoning “regular order in the name of furthering LGBT discrimination,” which has been the subject of several recent amendments. Read more.



The State Department inspector general finally released its report on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State. The report concludes that Clinton did not comply with the department’s policies by using her personal server, which was not approved by agency officials. The report contradicts Clinton’s claims that she did not violate any rules and had permission to use the private server. The report also discloses that several Secretaries of State had various email issues, and that the policies evolved over time, often lagging behind the changing risks and legal requirements. Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s campaign will certainly use this against his opponent over the next several months. Read more in Politico.



The House passed a bill to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients and to help them sign up for state medical marijuana programs. Although the bill would not permit the VA to supply medical marijuana, it shows a new willingness among legislators to give the drug a chance, especially as the dangers of opioid prescriptions become ever more apparent. A companion bill in the Senate passed a committee but has yet to be voted on by the full Senate.Read more from the Associated Press.



Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher made headlines this week when he disclosed that he recently used medical marijuana to treat his arthritis pain. Rep. Rohrabacher is a leading Republican voice in favor of reforming marijuana laws, but his admission is still noteworthy because he is the first sitting congressman in decades to admit using marijuana while in office. Read more in the Washington Post.



After much deliberation and lobbying on all sides, the House passed a bill to regulate thousands of toxic chemicals for the first time. The bill, which increases safety standards and regulations, passed with overwhelming support and is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama. Sen. Rand Paul, however, blocked its passage before the long weekend because he wants more time to read the bill. Read more.



11 states have already sued the Obama administration over its recent directive requiring public schools to allow students to use whichever bathrooms match their gender identities. Plaintiffs in the suit argued against the “havoc” the directive would wreak on schools, bemoaning the “seismic shift” it would force on schools and students. The Justice Department said this week, “While the department will review the complaint, the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans.” Read more in the Washington Post.



As you may have noticed if you traveled by plane recently, airport security lines have been growing, and complaints against the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) even more so. In response to growing backlash, the agency replaced its top security official and added a new team of administrators at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, one of the centers of the discontent. Critics say the move is too little too late, and that it will have no meaningful impact on TSA operations. All the rest of us can do is wait and see. Read more in the New York Times.



Some Democratic legislators want to replace Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Rep. Wasserman Schultz has been incredibly critical of Sen. Bernie Sanders, which many worry makes her too divisive a figure to lead the convention in July. She has no plans to step down, and many in the party still support her leadership, making this another wait and see situation.Read more on The Hill.


Reporter Natasha Korecki summed up the current status of the budget process as such: “While rank and file lawmakers seem willing to find some common ground, the governor and leaders are at odds over familiar issues.” And from Rich Miller: “The truth is, if something drastic doesn’t happen very soon, this state is heading for a full-blown, all-out political war come June 1st.”


Speaker Madigan and House Democrats passed a budget proposal that the governor’s budget office declared the “phoniest phony budget in recent Illinois history.” There was some confusion and discontent around how the vote was conducted, but the bill passed nonetheless. According to the budget office, the budget is up to $7 billion out of balance. Comptroller Leslie Munger said the proposed budget would raise the state’s unpaid bills to more than $15 billion and delay payments by “an unprecedented 8-9 months.” Paying for the $39 billion budget would require an income tax rate of 5.5%, according to the budget office.


One of the tactics used in this budget proposal is the elimination of expenses that are currently covered by consent decrees- like Medicaid payments. The idea is that since these payments will still be required even if appropriations are not made in a legislative budget, legislators can avoid including the expenses and/or making cuts to programs. The proposal also includes K-12 school funding instead of separating education from the rest of the budget, like legislators did last year. It is possible that schools will not open this fall if the budget is not enacted, but some say the bipartisan budget working groups are making progress. Read more about what Rich Miller calls “a very odd budget plan.”



Senate Democrats are not thrilled with the budget proposal, and Gov. Rauner would likely veto it anyway if passed as is. Legislators have only days to come up with a compromise before passing a budget becomes even more difficult.


Hoping to prevent another “Good Friday Massacre” (what critics called Gov. Rauner’s decision to cancel social service contracts to save money on Good Friday last year), House Democrats passed a bill requiring 30 days’ notice to providers before contracts can be canceled. Gov. Rauner restored the funding soon after cutting it, but providers are still concerned about losing their contracts without warning. Read more in the Chicago Tribune.



82 social service organizations, up from 64 earlier this month, are suing the governor and several state agency heads for emergency financial relief. The plaintiffs are seeking immediate payment from the state on contracts that are more than two months in arrears. Mrs. Rauner’s organization, Ounce of Protection, is one of the new plaintiffs in the suit.Read more on Capitol Fax.



With Chicago Public Schools (CPS) preparing to cut $700 million from school budgets, many charter schools face uncertain futures. Those that are not part of larger networks may not be able to open in the fall, and some charter networks may indefinitely postpone plans to open new campuses. “Closing charter schools would cause upheaval on several fronts: for families who would have to find new schools for their children, for district-run schools that would potentially have to take in thousands of students, and for larger charter networks that might also take in students because they are better positioned to absorb the cuts.” Read more.



A federal judge is insisting that Mayor Emanuel testify in a whistleblower case over the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) “code of silence” to protect fellow officers accused of inappropriate behavior. Attorneys for the city have offered to admit in court that a code of silence exists in order to prevent Mayor Emanuel from needing to testify, but the judge still wants to hear from the Mayor. Read more.



Rep. Lou Lang’s HB 5594, which prohibits courts from denying defendants access to medication-assisted substance abuse treatment programs, passed both houses.



Rumors have been circulating about US Rep. Richard Durbin’s possible gubernatorial ambitions, but Rep. Durbin insists he is not looking for any other positions and “would beg the people who are doing all the speculation to cool it.”


New York
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced the city will face a considerably larger budget gap than Mayor de Blasio’s administration has predicted, largely due to increased aid for public hospitals, homeless shelters, and overtime pay. Stringer also pointed out that the mayor’s savings plan is mostly “dependent on savings that would have occurred regardless,” not from any new actions. Read more.



In an effort to keep his ethics reform agenda alive, Gov. Cuomo presented several bills targeting the LLC loophole this week. The loophole allows individuals to donate large amounts of money to political candidates without disclosing their identities by doing it through limited liability companies. Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would limit contributions from LLCs to $5,000, which could dramatically change thepolitical donation landscape in New York. Assembly Democrats have tried to change the LLC loophole in the past, but it usually stops with Senate Republicans. Read more in the NY Times.



Sen. Catharine Young’s S 4722, related to assisted outpatient treatment orders, passed the Senate and was sent to the Assembly. The bill would require that “prior to the expiration of assisted outpatient treatment orders, the clinical needs of assisted outpatients are adequately reviewed in determining the need to petition” for continued treatment, and other provisions. If the court did not review a petition for continuation before the expiration of an order, the expired order would remain in effect until a decision was made.



A 6932, the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act,passed the Assembly. The bill would require a statewide electronic registry of vacant and abandoned property to be set up by the Attorney General, among other provisions. The bill would also establish the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Fund, which would be funded by civil penalties collected for violations of foreclosure and abandoned property codes. The fund would be used for “providing abandoned property enforcement assistance grants” to localities.



Rep. Richard Gottfried’s A 9510, which would allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana, passed the Assembly and was referred to the Senate Health Committee.


New Jersey
Finally- an Atlantic City rescue package that will actually be enacted! The state legislature passed two bills that would allow Atlantic City’s leaders 150 days to balance their budget and create a five-year plan, instead of imposing an immediate state takeover. Gov. Christie seems likely to sign the bills. The state will help keep the government running during those 150 days with a bridge loan and several grants.Read more in Politico New Jersey.



Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed the Democratic plan for Port Authority reform again, calling for the legislature to pass the same language already passed in New York. Proponents of the New Jersey Democrats’ language in both states argue that it would add necessary oversight to the Port Authority, while Gov. Christie and fellow Republicans say it would add unnecessary costs. It now seems that legislators may be amenable to passing the bill as Gov. Christie wants it.Read more in Politico New Jersey.



A state appeals court ruled yesterday that the Christie administration cannot give grants to religious schools, regardless of what the grant funds are intended for. Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood and Princeton Theological Seminary were to receive a total of $11 million for construction and renovation projects, but the ACLU challenged the award on the grounds that taxpayer funds were not to be used to “subsidize institutions that… exist to teach their particular religious doctrines.” Read more.


HB 523, regarding medical marijuana, passed both houses. The bill would authorize the use of medical marijuana and create a Medical Marijuana Control Program in the Department of Health. The Medical Marijuana Control Commission would determine the application and licensing procedures and just about every aspect of the program. This article answers the question, what next?



Attorney General Mike DeWine confirmed he will run for governor in 2018. He will most likely face Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Secretary of State Jon Husted in the Republican primary.Read more.



US Sen. Rob Portman is the subject of new attack ads from two national labor groups: the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Sen. Portman’s campaign spokesperson said, “These latest misleading ads from out-of-state liberal special interest groups are nothing more than desperate attempts to distract from Ted Strickland’s awful record.” So far, Sen. Portman and former Gov. Ted Strickland are polling very close. Read more.


John Gregg, who is running for governor on the Democratic ticket, announced state Rep. Christina Hale as his running mate. Gov. Pence welcomed her to the race and said he looks forward to debating the two Democrats with his Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb. Read more.


This Minnesota Public Radio article covers the major legislation that passed before Sunday’s deadline and the legislation that did not. Gov. Dayton may call for a special session to wrap up the unfinished issues, but in the meantime, funding for transportation projects and decisions on several non-budgetary issues remain undecided. Legislation that passed includes a package of tax cuts, funding for broadband Internet internet and preschool, regulations for police body cameras, and reduced drug crime sentencing. Gov Dayton also signed a bill to scrap the state’s presidential caucus system and change to a primary system.Read more.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA



The House passed a bill to exempt certain startup activities from SEC requirements, aiming to facilitate greater access to capital. The Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act would allow startups to hold “demo days” to showcase their products and meet potential investors without needing to verify the investors’ net worth or accreditation. Proponents of the bill say that it will remove unnecessary restrictions and enable startups greater access to investors. Critics say it will remove a crucial protection for investors and encourage startups to promote high-risk investments. Despite wide bipartisan support in the House, the bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain. Read more on The Hill.


In the absence of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and with no replacement coming anytime soon, the Supreme Court has slowed down its acceptance of new controversial cases. Only six cases have been accepted since Scalia died in February, and none of them are highly contentious. The evenly-split Court is likely trying to avoid cases that the justices are not confident they can decide without another member. Read more in the Washington Post.


Even as conservatives have begun asking to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is standing strong in his refusal to consider President Obama’s nominee. The dramatic change of heart in many Republican legislators comes directly from Donald Trump’s new position as the Republican presidential nominee, barring any changes at the national convention. There is widespread concern that with Trump as the nominee, Hillary Clinton will win the White House and have the opportunity to appoint a much more liberal justice. Some conservatives want to cut their losses now and appoint Garland, who is respected by both parties. Read more.


The FDA finalized a rule on e-cigarettes and some tobacco products that had been in limbo for several years. The new rule includes e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine in tobacco regulations, barring their sale to people under 18 and regulating the industry at the federal level for the first time. The rule also requires cigar and e-cigarette producers to register with the FDA, which will have a huge effect on small vape shops that mix their own liquids. The industry group American Vaping Association called the regulations effectively “a prohibition” because of the costs accompanying the application process. Read more in the New York Times.


Illinois has passed over 300 days without a budget, and the consequences are becoming harder to undo, no matter when funding shows up. Aside from the fact that if no budget is passed before the end of May, the General Assembly will need a supermajority to pass one, many organizations are already beyond the point of full recovery even if they were paid today. As of January 2016, 84% of the state’s human service agencies reported cutting programs, and countless organizations have cut staff and seen their waitlists for services grow. “The whole social services safety net is starting to wear away,” said one social services executive. “Once it goes, it’s virtually impossible to rebuild.” Read more in Bloomberg.


A coalition of 64 social service organizations sued the Rauner administration for over $100 million the state has failed to pay them since last July. Although Gov. Rauner’s office dismissed the suit, chalking it up to frustration, coalition chair Andrea Durbin says it is “strictly a business case” centered on unfulfilled contracts. “We’ve been held accountable to the contracts. We’ve been asked to deliver services, to report our data, to participate in program oversight,” she said. “You can’t with one hand ask people to do work and with the other hand deny them the ability to be paid.” Read more in the Chicago Tribune.


Despite the stopgap funding bill for higher education passed last week, Chicago State University still needed to lay off over 300 employees last Friday. The university received $20 million from the legislation, but administrators were counting on $37 million from the state this year. Read more from ABC7.


Yesterday the Senate passed a bill to send an additional $454 million to struggling colleges, and the House is expected to take it up next week. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Rep. Christian Mitchell’s bill for a constitutional amendment to change Illinois’s income tax system to a graduated tax died in the House. Rep. Lou Lang sponsored a companion bill that would have set the rates for the graduated tax, and he blames Gov. Rauner for pulling several Republican supporters away from the initiative. According to Rep. Lang, the plan would cut taxes for 99% of Illinois taxpayers and still raise an additional $1.9 billion for the state. The governor’s spokesperson, on the other hand, said that a graduated tax would “result in driving thousands of jobs out of Illinois.”Read more in the State Journal-Register.


There are two legislative working groups trying to put together a budget: the Ad-Hoc committee that has been meeting for the past year, and the new Budgeteers committee.  Both bipartisan groups are working on passable budget compromises, but the clock is ticking. Read more in Politico Illinois.


Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are concerned about the likely financial consequences of a strike, and the union seems to be backing away from a strike this month. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, “If CPS provokes us, and unilaterally effects change, all bets are off. In the absence of that, I get a sense that our members would not be looking at a strike in May.” A strike could start as early as May 16th if the union gives 10 days’ prior notice, but hopefully attempts a compromise will be successful. Read more in the Sun-Times.


Sen. Andy Manar’s bill to change the school funding formula to direct more money to poorer districts stalled this week when the Rauner administration released calculations claiming that the bill would cut funding from downstate districts to send millions of dollars more to Chicago. In reality, the bill has a ‘hold harmless’ provision that would prevent any districts from seeing funding cuts for the first year, but “Rauner’s numbers drop provided all the politicalcover Republicans needed to renew claims that the Democratic legislation was designed to prop up cash-strapped CPS at the expense of other districts,” writes Monique Garcia in the Chicago Tribune. Gov. Rauner wants to see school funding approved before reforming the system, which Sen. Manar says would simply make the disparities between school districts even larger. Legislators have received several different sets of numbers, and Sen. Manar is postponing a vote until they have had adequate time to consider them.Read more here and here.


Rep. Lou Lang’s bill to prohibit courts from denying defendants access to medication-assisted substance abuse treatment programs passed the Criminal Law Committee.


Mayor Emanuel hired Andrea Zopp, who lost the Democratic US Senate primary to US Rep. Tammy Duckworth, as Deputy Mayor. Zopp will be charge of major city projects.


New York

Sen. George Amedore introduced S 7446, which would allow the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to provide funding to for-profit agencies for substance use disorder and gambling programs.


Sen. Diane Savino introduced S 7467, a companion to Rep. Richard Gottfried’s Assembly bill to authorize five additional medical marijuana organizations. Each organization would be authorized to manufacture medical marijuana products and operate up to eight dispensaries.


Retiring US Rep. Chris Gibson announced he will take a job as a visiting lecturer at Williams College and will not run for governor in 2018. He will close the exploratory committee he opened to look into the possibility, and he will return all contributions. Read more in Morning Consult.


New Jersey
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s bill to work on Atlantic City’s finances without an immediate state takeover fizzled out yesterday. Speaker Prieto had planned to call the measure for a vote, but he canceled it when four members did not show up, effectively dooming the bill. It is not clear whether the bill would have passed, or whether Senate President Steve Sweeney’s takeover bill could pass the Assembly. Speaker Prieto now plans to work on a compromise bill, though Senate President Sweeney so far is refusing to work with him, despite announcements to the contrary. Read more in Politico New Jersey.


After much uncertainty, Atlantic City managed to make a $1.8 million bond payment this week, averting default. The payment only covers interest, but the city prevented what would have been the first municipal default in the state since 1938.


Two NJ Transit rail unions, representing close to 40% of the workforce, rejected the tentative agreement that prevented a strike earlier this year. Unions representing railway conductors and engineers did not ratify the new contract accepted by 14 other NJ Transit unions and will likely return to negotiations. So far, there is no threat of a strike. Read more.


Lakewood’s housing boom shows no signs of stopping, and the township is quickly running out of room- at least horizontally. The Township Committee appointed members to study ways to incorporate the dramatic growth, including raising the five-story limit on buildings. Read more.


Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz introduced S 2139 to add dysmenorrhea, severely painful menstrual cramps, to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. Rep. Tim Eustace introduced the Assembly version last month.


Rep. Kirk Schuring’s bill to legalize medical marijuana passed committee this week. Although many legislators are not in favor of legalizing marijuana, they are more concerned with what voters might pass as a constitutional amendment in November and want to get ahead of them with legislation. Rep. Schuring’s bill does not allow people to grow their own marijuana, and it excludes some medical conditions that are part of proposed ballot initiatives. Read more.




US Rep. Todd Young beat US Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the Republican primary to replace retiring US Sen. Dan Coats. Rep. Stutzman is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and is a Tea Party favorite, while Rep. Young is favored by more moderate Republicans. Rep. Young will face Democrat Baron Hill, a former state representative, in November.


Both representative’s districts were up for grabs because of their decision to run for Senate, and both are considered safely Republican. Jim Banks, who is supported by the House Freedom Caucus, won the primary in Rep. Stutzman’s district, and Trey Hollingsworth, a wealthy transplant to the state, won in Rep. Young’s district. Read more in Morning Consult.


State Supreme Court Justice David T. Prosser is retiring at the end of July, though his term does not end until 2021. This means Gov. Walker can appoint a successor to serve until 2020, at which point an election will be held for the seat.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich started teaming up in an attempt to keep Donald Trump from winning the GOP nomination, but the alliance quickly fell apart. Gov. Kasich and Sen. Cruz each vowed to pull out of states that the other polled highly in to try to keep anti-Trump voters united in each state, but less than a day after the announcement, Gov. Kasich told all of his supporters still to vote for him. Gov. Kasich’s Indiana campaign co-chair instructed supporters to “vote for Cruz so Trump does not win Indiana,” but the governor himself later told reporters, “They ought to vote for me. But I’m not over there campaigning and spending resources.” Read more in the Washington Post.


The Senate’s energy and water appropriations bill, which seemed very likely to pass, is now threatened by a single amendment. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton proposed an amendment that would prohibit the country from buying heavy water, a product used in nuclear reactions, from Iran. Since President Obama agreed to buy over 30 tons of heavy water from Iran last week, he would veto the bill if the amendment was attached to it. Senate Democrats do not want another vote related to Iran’s nuclear program, especially attached to an important spending bill. Sen. Cotton said he would be amenable to other procedures to arrange a vote on his legislation, whether as a standalone bill or another amendment. Read more in Morning Consult.


The House Armed Services Committee unexpectedly passed an amendment to include women in the Selective Service, the agency that keeps track of residents who can be drafted for military service. The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Duncan Hunter, is disappointed in the result because he hoped the amendment would start a discussion but ultimately fail. The amendment is now a part of the annual defense authorization bill, which will be considered by the House next month. Read more in the Washington Post.


Several representatives from the House Ways and Means Committee wrote a letter asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to gather and publish more data on Medicare beneficiaries’ mental and behavioral health. The letter points out, “CMS has not yet published [behavioral and mental health] data to the same extent as with other health conditions… Federal restrictions and regulations that prevent the accessibility of this data needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century.” Read the letter here.


The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a large group of conservative Republicans in the House, proposed a series of policy recommendations aiming to influence House leadership. Among these polices: abolishing the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), repealing the estate tax, and lowering corporate tax rates. Read the proposal here.


The RSC also published recommendations on healthcare reform. The group supports HR 2653, the American Health Care Reform Act, which is a conservative Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement. The RSC calls for the complete repeal of the ACA, replacing it with tax credits and more “federal support for high-risk pools.”  They also advocate allowing health insurance plans to cross state lines, reforming medical liability laws, and combining Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program into one “streamlined block grant.” Read the proposal here.


The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed nine bills related to opioid use and addiction treatment this week. An amendment that would have attached more funding failed, but the group of bills targeting several facets of the opioid crisis will soon be debated on the full House floor. Read more in Morning Consult.


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to approve Charter Communications’ acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, pending a final vote from regulators in California. The FCC and the Justice Department also imposed restrictions on such deals, however, aiming to protect video streaming services and access to broadband internet for low-income residents. Once the merger is complete, Charter will be the second-largest broadband internet provider in the country and the third-largest cable television provider. Read more in the New York Times.




The state legislature passed a bill last week to allocate $600 million for higher education, postponing an impending disaster with school closures and students unable to pay their tuition. The funding will help public colleges and universities remain open, and it will also fund Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for low-income students. Gov. Rauner signed the bill this week, despite its lack of Turnaround Agenda concessions. The Senate also passed a version of the bill that added over $400 million for social services, but the governor said he would not support it. Read more.


Late last week Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting down a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the Lieutenant Governor’s office, saving the state over $1 million a year. The Chicago Tribune editorial board, which tends to favor the governor, lambasted the Republican legislators, “the party of so-called fiscal conservatives who advocate for smaller, more efficient government,” as they wrote, for flip-flopping on the bill. Although the current Lt. Gov., Evelyn Sanguinetti, has called for her own office to be eliminated, the governor seems to have had a change of heart, since the line of succession without the lieutenant governor would likely lead to a Democrat. Read the editorial here.


The House again passed legislation to freeze local property taxes but allow school districts to ask voters for authority to collect more money. Although Gov. Rauner has been calling for a property tax freeze for the last year, he opposes this measure, calling it not a “real” effort. Despite the governor’s opposition, Republican Rep. Ron Sandack is a co-sponsor of the bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support. The bill’s fate in the Senate uncertain. Read more.


Chicago Alderman Edward Burke advanced a measure in the Zoning Committee to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the Loop. Currently, dispensaries are prohibited from locating in an any area designated as “downtown core,” which is easily-accessible and near several hospitals. The prohibition appears to be an oversight, since there were no objections in the committee, and the mayor’s office did not have an explanation. Read more in the Sun-Times.


New York
Mayor de Blasio announced his $82 billion city budget proposal this week. In addition to a new police precinct in Queens, the budget includes $2 billion for the floundering NYC Health + Hospitals system. Critics are concerned that the mayor’s plan to support the hospital system relies too much on “substantial State and Federal cooperation which has not yet been assured.” Read more here and here.


Mayor de Blasio is embroiled in a fundraising scandal, which he says is politically-motivated and unfounded in truth, and Gov. Cuomo has is looking for a candidate to oust him. A recently-leaked memo from the Board of Elections accused Mayor de Blasio of “willful and flagrant” violations of state law. Since the mayor’s approval ratings have also been on the decline, several potential candidates are emerging, including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Read more on the inquiry into themayor’s fundraising here and here, and into the governor’s search for a challenger here.


City Comptroller Scott Stringer plans to audit the Board of Elections after last week’s disappearance of over 100,000 Brooklyn Democrats from the voter registry. The loss of these voters’ data was apparently caused in part by a data-entry error, but Stringer also cites outdated state voting laws as a problem he wants to see addressed. Stringer called the system ‘broken’ and said, “We’ve got to take a sledgehammer to this. We have to stop pretending this is a democracy.” Read more in the NY Post.


New Jersey
While state legislators still work to put together a plan to save the Transportation Trust Fund, read this article that recaps the situation and possible effects on your taxes.


Legislators are still working on how to address Atlantic City’s financial woes, though some think a solution is close at hand. Rep. Chris Brown is sponsoring legislation that charge a committee made of state and city officials with creating a binding plan for the city, instead of a “non-transparent power grab” in the form of a state takeover. Rep. Brown called the takeover approach, which the Senate has already passed, “martial law being declared in Atlantic City without any oversight,” and he is confident the Assembly will not pass it. Read more.


According to PolitickerNJ, Reps. Scott Rumana and David Russo of the 40th legislative district may be on their way to judge positions, leaving their seats open in 2017. Rep. Rumana may even be a judge by this summer. Read more.


23 Ohioans die from heroin every week, and the problem of heroin use is spreading. The state has been trying to find a balance between rehabilitation and prosecution in its efforts to combat the crisis, but that balance is hard to come by. Several counties have ‘drug courts,’ which only handle drug cases and seek to help drug addicts get clean and stay out of jail. Although some do not approve of treating addicts less like criminals and more like patients, Attorney General Mike DeWine acknowledged, “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” Read or watch more on 60 Minutes.


US Rep. Pat Tiberi is reportedly considering challenging US Sen. Sherrod Brown in the next election cycle. The Democratic senator plans to run for another term, but his name is also rumored to be in the ring for Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential pick. Read more in the Marion Star.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

All three remaining Republican presidential candidates backtracked from their previous promise to support the eventual nominee, whoever it is. When asked if he planned to support the nominee no matter what, Gov. John Kasich said, “If the nominee is somebody that I think is really hurting the country, and dividing the country, I can’t stand behind them.” Trump was the most direct, as usual: “No. I don’t anymore. I have been treated unfairly.” Sen. Ted Cruz tried to skirt the issue, but he eventually conceded that “nominating Donald Trump [would be] a disaster.” Read more in the Washington Post.


The Supreme Court deadlocked on a case concerning whether or not unions may require non-members to pay dues, leaving the previous court’s decision in favor of unions intact, at least for now. “It was the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court’s four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right,” writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner called the result “tragic.” Read more.


Two more Republican senators have agreed to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland: Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Arkansas Sen. John Boozman. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk already met with the nominee. Several other senators have said they are open to a meeting if the White House reaches out to them. The senators insist the meetings are simply gestures of courtesy, not signals that they are defecting from party leadership. Read more in Politico.


Even as a few Republicans break ranks and agree to meet with Garland, some Democrats are noncommittal on whether they will vote for him. Sen. Al Franken is waiting until the nominee participates in public hearings (which Republican leadership is currently blocking) before announcing a decision. Even Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is highly vocal supporter of Garland’s nomination, wants to see more of the process before pledging support. And Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “I’m very positively inclined to vote for Judge Garland, but it’s always a good idea to wait for the hearings before making a final commitment.” Read more in Politico.


This article in Morning Consult contends that after a productive 2015, “Congress looks to be preparing the Capitol for legislative hibernation ahead of the November elections.” The only crucial deadlines legislators have to contend with this year are funding the federal government and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. Theseare important, but remember that last year Congress met deadlines for transportation funding, raising the debt ceiling, and passing a huge spending bill, on top of overhauling federal education laws and making significant changes to Medicare. Congress still needs to pass appropriations bills, but this could easily end up being pushed off until the end of the year, as usual. Read more here.




The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is holding its walkout day today, picketing at schools, rallying, and protesting at government buildings. See the live updates on the Tribune website and more background on ABC 7 Chicago.


Last week’s state Supreme Court rulings on pension payments and back pay may have even farther-reaching impacts than originally anticipated. As we mentioned last week, one ruling determined that the state can not reduce pension payments, and the other found that state employees may not be entitled to back pay if there are no legislative appropriations. The state attorney general is now considering asking the court whether state workers can be paid at all, since just about all state employee contracts are technically dependent on appropriations that have not existed since June 30th, 2015. If the court were to find that state agencies have no authority to pay their workers, the government would shut down – for real this time. Rich Miller of Capitol Fax points out that this could be the crisis needed to force the governor to let his Turnaround Agenda demands go and sign a budget into law.


Meanwhile, Rep. Brandon Phelps filed a bill to authorize payments to the thousands of state workers who have been denied raises for five years because of the lack of adequate appropriations. “This should have already been paid. A contract is a contract. Quinn should have done this, and I was hoping Rauner would have finished it up,” Rep. Phelps said.Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Mayor Emanuel appointed the Chicago Police Department’s Chief of Patrol, Eddie Johnson, as the interim police superintendent. The mayor eschewed the recommendations of the Chicago Police Board, which had advanced three candidates for the position. The former superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was fired in the aftermath of the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Public reactions have been mixed, with some applauding the mayor’s choice and others reading it as a move to undermine the police board.Read more in the Washington Post.


Students attending the Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) will need to pay back their monetary award program (MAP) grants if they want to register for classes this summer and fall. The private university had issued credits to students who qualified for MAP grants from the state, under the assumption that the state would pass a budget and pay out the grant funds. Since this still has not happened, hundreds of students will need to pay the money back or stop going to school. Read more.


Fitch Ratings downgraded Chicago’s credit rating to just one notch above junk status this week, in response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling on pension payments. This is still better than the city’s rating from Moody’s, which labeled its credit as junk last year. Read more from Reuter’s.


President Obama will speak with law students at the University of Chicago next Thursday. He plans to speak about the Supreme Court and his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. Read more in the Tribune.


The city of Urbana reduced fines for marijuana possession this week, and it may signal a larger shift throughout Illinois. Not all municipalities are in favor of lowering punishment for marijuana possession before the state does, but many officials believe decriminalization is on its way. Read more in the News-Gazette.


New York


Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a budget deal that includes a minimum wage increase, income tax cuts, and paid family leave. New York City and the surrounding suburbs will raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021, though other parts of the state will only raise it to $12.50 by 2020. The personal income tax rate will decrease from 6.45% to 5.5% for families earning under $300,000 by 2025. The bill still needs to pass the legislature, but no signifcant roadblocks are anticipated. Read more in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.


New Jersey
Atlantic City will shut down on April 8th unless something changes. The city and public worker unions may reach an agreement that would have workers paid once a month instead of twice in order to extend the timeline for a more comprehensive solution. This would give the city and state legislators an extra month to sort out the dire financial situation. Read more.


Marijuana Policy Project’s proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana cleared its first two hurdles in the process to appear on November’s ballot. Attorney General Mike DeWine approved the group’s summary language, and the Ohio Ballot Board certified that the proposal will be accepted as one amendment. Now, advocates will start collecting signatures to petition for the amendment to be included on the ballot. Read more.


Incumbent US Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic challenger Ted Strickland are focusing on trade policy in their latest campaign ads against each other. Sen. Portman is accusing former Gov. Strickland of enabling China to manipulate currency and cheat free trade rules, and Strickland’s campaign is accusing Sen. Portman of essentially the same thing, calling him “the best Senator China’s ever had.” Read more in Morning Consult.


Businessman Warren Davidson won the Republican primary to replace former US Rep. John Boehner. Watch this video for an introduction to him.


US Rep. Pat Tiberi is considering a run for an unspecified statewide office. He commissioned the Republican Public Opinion Strategies firm to conduct a poll. Read more.


The US Chamber of Commerce endorsed US Rep. Todd Young for US Senate. Rep. Young will face fellow Republican US Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the May primary. Read more in the IndyStar.


Gov. Pence signed a controversial bill to ban abortions that are sought because of the fetus’s sex, race, or a disability. Indiana and North Dakota are the only states in the country that ban abortion in the case of a diagnosis of a disability or birth defect. Read more in the Washington Post.


Gov. Dayton signed two bills that legislators had been struggling over for some time. One will extend unemployment benefits for laid-off mine workers, and the other will provide $250 million in rebates for businesses’ payments into the unemployment fund. The fund is doing very well and is only expected to improve, which is why Republican legislators were eager and able to pass the payment reductions. Read more.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA



President Obama and his family spent the first few days of the week in Cuba, where no sitting US president has been in almost 90 years. In remarks that were broadcast live throughout Cuba, the president called for the Castro government to loosen its grip on Cuba’s people and economy and to embrace change. “It’s time to lift the embargo,” he said, “but even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba.” Read more about the visit in the New York Times.


The Senate confirmed President Obama’s pick for Education Secretary, John King, Jr. The Washington Post called the confirmation “a move that shows that education has become a rare issue on which a polarized Washington can reach bipartisan compromise.” King was the acting secretary until his confirmation, filling the role since Arne Duncan stepped down last year. Read more in the Washington Post.


This Washington Post outlines four scenarios that could lead to Judge Merrick Garland’s confirmation as the next Supreme Court Judge. The writers emphasize that even a hearing is incredibly unlikely, but it is theoretically possible. Read more here.


In the meantime, Judge Garland has been meeting with Democratic Senators and is scheduled to speak with Republican Sen. Susan Collins when the Senate reconvenes.Read more in the New York Times.


The Supreme Court decided not to review the complaint from Nebraska and Oklahoma about Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. The two states claim that the legal marijuana market in Colorado leads to increased drug trafficking on their territory, which strains the states’ law enforcement, judicial, and penal systems. The court dismissed the case with no public comment, but the Obama administration had advised them to dismiss it because Colorado’s laws do not undermine federal drug laws. This is a victory for all states with legal marijuana and those that are considering legalization. Read more in the Washington Post.


Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduced HR 4861 to authorize grants for evidence-based substance abuse treatment services. The text of the bill has not yet been released, so we will follow up with more details when it is.


House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a speech this week, lamenting the state of politics and calling for “a battle of ideas, not insults.” Speaker Ryan is in the delicate position of needing to be neutral in the presidential primary battle as a key official in July’s Republican convention, but also trying to distance the Republican party from some of Donald Trump’s ‘excessive statements.” Read more in the Journal-Sentinal.


Chicago had to borrow another $220 million to make up for a year-end budget shortfall. Although the money is not needed for the city’s pension funds until the end of the year, the city needs to have enough cash on hand now to make up for the anticipated revenue shortage in case the state does not come through with the aid the mayor has been hoping for. Read more in the Tribune.


The Illinois Supreme Court just made it even harder for the city to sort out its pension mess: the court ruled that the city cannot cut benefits and require employees to pay more into their retirement funds. Unions celebrated this ruling, but in a dissent to a separate ruling released today, Justice Kilbride pointed out that unionized state employees may not be entitled to back pay because of the current lack of appropriations. Read more in the Tribune and Capitol Fax.


The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) approved a walkout day onApril 1st, so prepare for schools to be shut down throughout the city. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “We are dying the death of a thousand cuts. We need funding from Springfield, we need Gov. Rauner to get off of his anti-union ‘turnaround agenda’ and get a budget done.” Read more in the Tribune.


The Rauner administration and AFSCME, a state worker union, are taking their fight over whether the administration was within its rights to lay off over 150 workers last year to court in Sangamon County. An arbitrator sided with the administration, claiming the union failed to prove that the layoffs violated the terms of their contract. AFSCME is appealing the arbitrator’s decision. Meanwhile, the layoffs remain on hold. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights organization, made waves this week by endorsing several Republican candidates over Democrats they were expected to back. Notable among the endorsements: Sen. Mark Kirk instead of Rep. Tammy Duckworth in the Senate race. Read the op-ed explaining the decision here.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA



President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge, to the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. The Washington Post called Garland “the safe, conventional, even boring choice for the Supreme Court.” Although Garland has had support from both Democrats and Republicans, Republican leadership is still refusing to consider his appointment. Some individual Republicans, however, said they will speak with Garland when he is at the capitol. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is one of only two Republican senators who have said they would vote on a nominee. Most analysts are calling his nomination “dead on arrival” unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changes his tune. Read more in the New York Times and Washington Post.


The House Budget Committee approved an amendment along party lines to urge House leadership to cut the $30 billion that former House Speaker John Boehner had negotiated into the 2017 budget plan from future spending bills. House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to throw out Boehner’s plan, much to the ire of Freedom Caucus Republicans. The language approved this week calls for restructuring Medicaid into a state block-grant program, turning Medicare into a voucher system, and raising the eligibility age to 67. All Democrats on the committee opposed the amendment. Read more.


If you have been itching to send a letter to Cuba, you are in luck: the US Postal Service resumed mail service between the US and Cuba. President Obama is schedule to visit the country this weekend. Read more in the Washington Post.


Tuesday’s primary saw unprecedented Republican voter turnout in Illinois, and Democrats came out almost as strongly as in 2008. If we were to sum up the results in one sentence, it would be this one from Rich Miller of Capitol Fax: “Madigan had a much better day than Rauner.”


Speaker Mike Madigan easily won his district, and Rep. Ken Dunkin lost his. The speaker framed the primary results as a clear message that voters do not want more of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s influence in the capitol, while Gov. Rauner cited the many Republican incumbents who kept their seats as proof that “special interests backed by Speaker Madigan failed to defeat” the governor’s supporters. He then called on the Speaker to “end his month long vacation” and reconvene the House. Read more in Capitol Fax here and here.


Republican Sen. Sam McCann is “[Gov.] Rauner’s version of Ken Dunkin,” as Natasha Korecki of Politico Illinois put it. The governor heavily funded and campaigned for Sen. McCann’s primary opponent Bryce Benton in retaliation for Sen. McCann’s votes in favor of unions. In spite of the millions of dollars spent against him, Sen. McCann won his district with 53% of the vote. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Voter outrage at Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez led to her ouster by Kim Foxx, who won with 62% of the vote. Alvarez has been under fire since the release of the videos from the Laquan McDonald police shooting case last year.Read more in the Sun-Times.


US Reps. Mark Kirk and Tammy Duckworth each won their respective primary and will face off for a US Senate seat in November.


On Wednesday Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would authorize close to $4 billion in funding to higher education, social services, and other areas not currently funded by court orders. Gov. Rauner’s office criticized the measure for its lack of funding sources, and the governor will veto it if it ends up on his desk. The governor again called for the General Assembly to stay in town instead of recessing for spring break, but both chambers are in recess until the first week of April. Read more in the State Journal-Register and Capitol Fax.


According to Comptroller Leslie Geiger-Munger, Illinois could be $10 billion behind on bills by June of this year. The amount of overdue bills is higher than previously anticipated, and it will be even higher if the General Assembly passes appropriations bills. Many human services providers are concerned that if no appropriations measures are passed, even without funding, they may never be paid for their fiscal year 2016 services.  Read more in the State Journal-Registerand Capitol Fax.


Chicago’s City Council approved an ordinance to raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21. The ordinance also increases several tobacco taxes, including on cigars and pipe tobacco. Mayor Emanuel’s office estimates the tax hikes will increase revenue by $6 million per year, and the money will go toward a freshman orientation program at Chicago high schools. Read more.


An arbitrator ruled against the state worker union AFSCME and found that Gov. Rauner’s layoff plan from 2015 did not violate the state’s contract with the union. This particular case mainly concerns employees at the Illinois State Museum. The burden was on AFSCME to prove that the state’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, or arose from an illegal motivation,” and they failed to do so, according to the arbitrator. Interestingly, the ruling also states, “The purpose of this arbitration is not for it to constitute an endorsement or a condemnation of the State’s actions, what has transpired with the Illinois State Museum, or the withholding of support for the social service and education programs historically funded by the State.” The arbitrator was apparently keen to emphasize that the ruling was not an ideological statement, but only a legal interpretation of the contract language. AFSCME plans to appeal the ruling. Read more on Capitol Fax.


Sen. Dan Duffy will retire early to take a job with Prevent Child Abuse America. Sen. Duffy would have served until January.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

Last night’s debate between the final two Democratic contenders for president was considerably more tense than past debates. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton raised their voices throughout the debate and attacked each other over their policies and progressive claims. As has come to be expected in debates, both candidates stretched the truth in some areas. Read this fact-checking article for a clearer picture.


House Republicans failed to override President Obama’s veto of their partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Fittingly, this 63rd attempt to dismantle or defund the ACA was held on Groundhog Day. Read more in Politico.


White House officials announced their intention to seek over $1 billion in new funding to address the opioid use epidemic over the next two years. Most of the funding would be directed to states to expand access to treatment programs.Read more in the Washington Post.



The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) turned down a four-year contract offered by the district this week. The contract was a significant compromise for both sides, but the CTU rejected it in large part because of a lack of trust in the district’s ability to stick to the deal. A state board could overrule the Chicago Board of Education’s decisions, and the uncertainty over the state budget also adds concerns. In response to the union’s rejection of the deal, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool said he will need to go ahead with cost-cutting measures, including layoffs and stopping the district from paying teachers’ shares of their pension contributions, unless a deal is reached soon. Read more in the Tribune hereand here.


Gov. Rauner announced he is already preparing for a state takeover of CPS and has asked the state Board of Education to find a new superintendent. At a news conference, Gov. Rauner said, “I hope the rejection by the Chicago Teacher’s Union is a wake up call for the mayor and the taxpayers in Chicago and around the state.” He added that CPS has been mismanaged and overly influenced by the CTU, and the state will be better equipped to reach a deal. Despite the governor’s instructions to the state Board of Education, the state cannot take over CPS unless legislation is passed to allow it, and that seems unlikely. Democrats in the legislature, especially the House Speaker and Senate President, are strongly opposed. Read more in the Sun-Times.


Mayor Emanuel is pushing for another property tax hike to fund teacher pensions even without the compromise he previously requested from Springfield in exchange. He had demanded that the legislature either create a uniform pension system for teachers all across the state, or rewrite the school funding formula to prevent districts with large populations in poverty or in need of special assistance from bearing an undue burden. Now, he is proposing reinstating the school property tax increase without any compromise from the capitol. Read more in the Sun-Times.


CPS issued $725 million in high-interest bonds this week to cover debt payments and critical school projects. According to a market analysist in the Chicago Tribune, “Bonds issued by taxing bodies like CPS are normally considered sound investments, but that’s not the case with a school district weighed down by debt, labor uncertainty and politicaltumult.” The 28-year bonds are being sold with 8.5% yields, but there is no guarantee that investors will actually recoup this amount. Read more.


House Speaker Michael Madigan is creating a legislative panel to consider changes to Illinois’s school funding formula. The new Education Funding Task Force, led by Democratic Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, will draft legislation aiming to fund schools throughout the state more equitably. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Rep. Thaddeus Jones filed HB 4661, the Local Government Stabilization Authority Act. The bill would create a pilot program authorizing Calumet Township, Thornton Township, and Bremen Township to create an authority charged with facilitating “the return of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties to productive use, combatting community deterioration and creating economic growth.”


Gov. Rauner’s administration again refused to add more conditions to the list of qualifying illnesses that can be treated with medical marijuana. An advisory board, which considered patient testimony and medical evidence, recommended adding eight conditions to the list, but the Department of Public Health turned all of them down. The conditions included PTSD, chronic pain, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis. So far, only 4,000 patients have been approved to buy medical marijuana in Illinois, and the new industry is floundering. Patients and advocates are fighting back, however: five residents have filed lawsuits aiming to expand the program to cover more conditions. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Sen. William Haine introduced SB 2378, which would require medical marijuana dispensaries to provide written explanations of the risks and benefits of medical cannabis at the time of dispensing to a patient or caregiver. The bill would also require dispensaries to transmit information to the Prescription Monitoring Program, including patient name and address, amount and strain of marijuana dispensed, and dispensary identification number, within seven days.


Rep. Dwight Kay filed HB 4692 to require medical marijuana products to contain a warning label with potential side effects in their packaging. The bill would require such a label on all marijuana harvested for distribution to dispensaries and on all products that contain marijuana in dispensaries.


Gov. Rauner created the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation, a private, nonprofit group that will take over a public agency’s task of attracting businesses to Illinois. Since legislators would not pass his privatization plan last year, Gov. Rauner used his executive authority to create the corporation this week. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Although Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin is running for reelection, many powerful Democrats are supporting his primary challenger, Juliana Stratton. Stratton previously served as the executive director of Cook County Justice for Children, and she now directs the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Supporters include Secretary of State Jessie White, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, and several Chicago aldermen. Read more in the Sun-Times.


New York


A proposal from Democrats to increase tax rates on those making over $1 million was turned down by Republicans this week. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s plan would have increased the rate for residents making $1 million or more to 8.82% and the rate for those making over $10 million to 9.32%. It would also lower the tax rate for people earning between $40,000 and $50,000 from 6.45% to 6.25%.  Senate Republicans instead want to lower taxes. Read more.


The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) approved an advisory opinion to expand the definition of ‘lobbying’ to include a political consultant’s contact with the media on behalf of a client. “Any attempt by a consultant to induce a third party—whether the public or the press—to deliver the client’s lobbying message to a public official would constitute lobbying under these rules,” according to the opinion. It is not clear how this would be enforced, and Gov. Cuomo’s office plans to take a closer look at the ruling. Read more in the Wall Street Journal.


Rep. Albert Stirpe introduced A 9211, the Assembly companion bill to S 6478. The bills would require health insurance plans to cover 90 days in a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse, provided that a physician has prescribed the treatment.


Reps. Richard Gottfried and Kenneth Zebrowski introduced A 9151, which would require the health commissioner to register an additional five organizations to manufacture medical marijuana by January 1, 2017. Each organization would be able to operate up to four dispensaries.


In his State of the City speech, Mayor de Blasio proposed building a streetcar line along the East River through Brooklyn and Queens. The streetcar system would cost an estimated $2.5 billion, which is considerably less than an expanded underground subway line would cost. If it is approved, construction would not begin until 2019, with full functionality expected in 2024. Read more in the New York Times.


New York Insider: Special election updates


  • 19th Congressional District: Livingston Deputy Town Supervisor Will Yandik will join the race for retiring US Rep. Chris Gibson’s seat. He will face fellow Democrats Zephyr Teachout and John Patrick Kehoe.
  • State Senate District 9: State Rep. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat, will run for the state senate seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in the April special election.
  • State Assembly District 65: State Comptroller Scott Stringer and state Sen. Brad Hoylman endorsed Yuh-Line Niou, currently state Rep. Ron Kim’s chief of staff, for the seat vacated by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. If the New York County Democratic Committee selects Niou over competitors Paul Newell and Jenifer Fajkumar, she will compete against Republican Lester Chang in April.
New Jersey
A law that took effect last month makes offering retirement plans strictly voluntary for employers.  The original bill would have required small businesses to offer retirement plans, but the legislature accepted Gov. Christie’s conditional veto and changed that key element. The bill provides for a retirement plan marketplace for employers, which is meant to encourage them to shop around and offer plans voluntarily. Read more.


There could be another public employee battle on the horizon, as a state law that required public employees to pay part of their health benefit premiums has expired. “At issue is whether school boards will be able to maintain those payments during contract negotiations or whether the unions will have the clout to roll them back.” Read more.


Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Rep. John Wisniewski plan to introduce legislation to boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour. “This will be an integral component in our efforts to stop the decline in the middle class and lift working families out of poverty,” Speaker Prieto said. Gov. Christie is strictly opposed to a dramatic minimum wage hike, saying through a spokesperson: “Between nearly doubling the minimum wage and their effort to enshrine a $3 billion tax increase in the constitution, there is absolutely no end to what Democrats in the legislature will do to kill jobs, drive major businesses out of New Jersey and destroy an economy that is on the rebound.” Read more.


Rep. Nancy Munoz introduced A 2556 to impose additional surcharges on motor vehicle offenses in order to pay for police vehicle technology upgrades, including automated license recognition devices. The bill was referred to the Law and Public Safety Committee.


Senate Health Committee chairman Joseph Vitale introduced a bill to ban flavored electronic cigarette liquids. The bill would bring e-cigarette regulations closer to those of traditional cigarettes by banning all flavors except tobacco, clove, and menthol. Sen. Vitale says flavors like bubble gum and strawberry are marketed to children. Members of the relatively new industry, however, say the majority of e-liquids they sell are flavored, and banning the flavors would “decimate” the industry in New Jersey, prompting customers simply to buy from other companies online. Read more in Politico New York.


Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson proposed increasing the municipal income tax to 2.5% to fill a hole in next year’s city budget, as well as to improve services. Mayor Jackson said without a tax hike, the city will need to layoff workers and cut services, from filling potholes to plowing snow and staffing police stations. The city’s income tax has not risen from 2% since 1981. Read more.


House and Senate Republicans have each passed a road funding bill and will now have to try to come up with a compromise. The Senate passed Gov. Pence’s plan, which would not raise any taxes and would instead use state budget reserves. The House plan would raise the gas and cigarette taxes to fund a longer-term plan. Read more.


Despite Gov. Dayton’s efforts over the past month, the legislature will not hold a special session to address unemployment benefits for mine workers, federal identification standards, and racial economic disparities. Republican legislators wanted the governor to agree to a large business tax cut in order to hold the special session, and he and fellow Democrats would not have it.  House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who insisted holding a special session was unnecessary anyway, plans to hold a vote on the unemployment bill when the regular session starts on March 8th and to act on the Real ID problem soon after. Read more.

Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

The Democratic presidential candidates held their final debate before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month. It felt similar to the previous debates, with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders knee-deep in their establishment versus disruption narratives and former Gov. Martin O’Malley largely a non-factor.


This widely-quoted tweet from columnist Nick Kristof sums it up: “Hillary Clinton is eminently knowledgeable, but she’s in effect calling for continuity at a time when lots of people want discontinuity.” This race isn’t nearly the runaway for Clinton that many expected it to be.


On the Republican side, former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave Donald Trump her endorsement.

International inspectors announced that Iran has followed through on the necessary steps to dismantle significant pieces of its nuclear program, prompting the US and Europe to lift economic sanctions. There is still a trade embargo in place between America and Iran, but limited business activities will be permitted. The US and Iran also conducted a successful prisoner swap, returning five Americans who had been detained, some for years. Read more in the New York Times.


The Supreme Court will consider whether President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which have been on pause for a year, are legal. In 2014 the president tried to grant work permits and semi-legal status to close to five million people who entered the country illegally when they were children or whose children are citizens. 26 states claimed they would be harmed by this change and filed a lawsuit against the administration. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict by the end of June. Read more in Politico.


Meanwhile, the Obama administration is being criticized by immigration advocates for the recent surge in deportation raids targeting women and children from Central America.Read more in the Washington Post.


President Obama is considering issuing an executive order to require any companies doing business with the federal government to report their political contributions. It is not yet clear if such an order would be enforceable, but some suspect it would reduce the amount of money many prominent businesses funnel into politics. Read more in the New York Times.


President Obama’s new regulations on coal-fired power plants, which were challenged by dozens of states and industry groups last year, were upheld by a federal appeals court this week. The court’s decision to reject the challenge to the Clean Power Plan means that all states need to begin shutting down coal plants that do not meet the new requirements and investing in wind and solar energy resources. The court battle will continue, and most expect it to be resolved only by the Supreme Court, probably next year. Read more in the New York Times.


The ambitious 21st Century Cures bill that passed the House last year will not be taken up in the Senate. Instead, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will consider at least seven separate bills aiming to tackle the same issues of spurring medical innovation, funding the National Institutes of Health, streamlining the FDA approval process, and more. The Senate holdup is mainly due to disagreements over how to fund the package as a whole. Read more in Modern Healthcare.


Although the move is destined to fail, Speaker Ryan plans to hold a vote to override President Obama’s veto of the bill to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act on January 26th.


Yesterday Gov. Rauner announced that he and Senate President John Cullerton had come to an agreement over pension reform legislation, but Sen. Cullerton immediately dispelled that notion: “The governor called me this morning to say he was going to back my ideas for pension reform. The plan he outlined at his news conference isn’t what we talked about. It’s not my plan.” Read more in the Tribune.


It seems that Gov. Rauner and Sen. Cullerton had actually negotiated a plan that used most of the senator’s own pension reform bill, but the governor exaggerated and added anti-union rhetoric to his description of the deal when he announced it.  Sen. Cullerton’s plan would offer union employees the choice between keeping their compounded cost of living increase but not applying salary increases to their pensions, or keeping their salary increases pensionable but subjecting them to the Tier 2 pension law, which uses a simple interest rate. So far it is unclear whether this proposal would meet constitutional requirements, let alone pass the legislature.


Earlier in the week, House and Senate Republican leaders proposed that the state take over Chicago Public Schools and allow the district to declare bankruptcy. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno called the Chicago school system “abysmal” and said the proposal would help the district recover from its budget woes. The Chicago Teachers Union, Mayor Emanuel, and most Democrats in the legislature are vehemently opposed to the plan, which could result in voided union contracts.


Senate President John Cullerton called the Republicans’ proposal “mean spirited and evidence of their total lack of knowledge of the real problems facing Chicago Public Schools.” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool accused the governor and Republican leaders of wanting “to preserve a school funding system that systematically discriminates against Chicago children. Read more in the Tribune and Sun-Times.


CPS is laying off central office workers today. So far no teachers or union members are on the chopping block, but hundreds of administrative staff are expected to be laid off.Read more in the Tribune.


House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie proposed a plan to funnel all of Chicago’s tax increment financing (TIF) money that is not already committed to another project to CPS. Currently, the mayor determines what counts as “extra” TIF funds and splits them among several agencies, including CPS; Rep. Currie’s bill would temporarily use all TIF funds that are not already directed elsewhere for CPS. Read more in the Sun-Times.


Legislators have rushed to introduce bills aiming to change how police interact with the public in the wake up several high-profile and reputation-damaging police shooting cases. Some bills would require Chicago police officers to wear body cameras at all times and make the footage more easily accessible to the public, while others focus on mandating more training in the use of non-lethal force. Read this article in the Tribune for more details on the proposals and why they may not progress this year.


Chicago’s racial tensions have even attracted a delegation from the United Nations, which will visit the city next week.Read more.


Democrats raised over $18 million in the last quarter of 2015, compared to $3.5 million for Republicans. Democrats are currently estimated to have over $49 million on hand, and Republicans have $39 million, which adds up to an unprecedented amount of money in play for state campaigns.Read more in CapitolFax.


Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

With just over two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential primary vote in the country, candidates are scrambling to differentiate themselves and appeal to voters. Last night’s Republican debate was as combative as ever, with Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz dominating much of the fight. In case you missed the action, here’s a quick recap of the highlights in the New York Times. According to the Washington post and a slew of other outlets, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio ‘won’ the debate. Read the Washington Post’s winners and losers take here and a New York Times roundup of pundit opinions here

Also in the Post: Hillary Clinton is not doing nearly as well now as she was during her 2008 campaign. National polls are fickle, the reporter points out, and polls tend to change dramatically after early state primary results are out. But Clinton is not as far ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders as many expected her to be by now. Read more.


Sen. Rand Paul’s bill to subject the Federal Reserve to Government Accountability Office (GAO) auditing failed to garner enough of a majority to pass. Sen. Paul and other supporters of the bill are critical of the Fed’s control over interest rates, while opponents fear the consequences of the Fed’s losing its independence. What is interesting in politicalterms is that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator making a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Read more in the Washington Post.


In a move that does nothing to appease the coal industry, the Obama administration announced it will pause the process of approving new leases for coal mining on public lands. The Interior Department is conducting an extensive review of the coal leasing program, specifically to determine if the current lease and royalty rates companies pay the government accurately reflect the market value. The administration plans to stop new leases until the review is complete. Read more in the New York Times.


Gov. Rauner seems to be pursuing an even more aggressive reform agenda than he was last year. He declared today that he and the large state worker union AFSCME are at a contract negotiation impasse, he refuses to fund higher education operations and grants without seeing spending reforms from universities, and he will not consider bailing out Chicago’s public schools unless Mayor Emanuel acts on the governor’s Turnaround Agenda. 

Former US Attorney Dan Webb, who has led previous investigations into Cook County corruption, will lead the investigation into Chicago’s Law Department following the recent scandals. He will examine civil rights claim proceedings, make recommendations, and refer cases of possible misconduct to the city Inspector General. Read more in the Tribune.


Meanwhile, video of another police shooting was released yesterday. This one was three years ago, and the video is not nearly as clear as the one from the Laquan McDonald case. Nonetheless, its release and the shooting itself are just as controversial. Read more in the Tribune.


Mayor Emanuel is considering a new tax on tobacco and cigars to pay for a summer school program for students considered at risk of dropping out. The tax would raise an estimated $6 million. Some question the wisdom of adding new programs to the city’s offerings when Chicago Public Schools cannot pay for its current programs. According to the Sun-Times, “the answer is part education and part political.” The mayor needs all of the political good will he can muster, and targeting education aid to inner-city youth is the administration’s latest strategy. Read more.


The mayor also proposed raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. The Chicago suburb of Evanston passed a local ordinance to do just that in 2014. Read more.


In the heated fight for the role of Cook County State’s Attorney, the Democratic party officially endorsed Kim Foxx over incumbent Anita Alvarez and fellow challenger Donna More. More is trying to spin the endorsement to her advantage, saying voters want someone seen as independent from established officials. Read more in the Tribune.