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.