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.