August 18, 2014
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Hold still, Bossy!
Voters ought not be cowed by the debate in the ongoing gubernatorial campaign.
In an election year, everything is fair game.
But cow tipping?
Well, it's not like Illinois has any real problems to discuss. So why not?
The cow-tipping contretemps broke recently when intrepid Lee Enterprises scooped the political press by uncovering a 2013 email from Evelyn Sanguinetti, the Republican Party's candidate for lieutenant governor, to a law school friend who works at the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
In the email, Sanguinetti, a lawyer and member of the Wheaton City Council, inquired about possible job openings in the department and then joked about life in the state capital.
"Isn't cow tipping a work requirement in Springfield (LOL)?" she said.
It's not the kind of disclosure that will derail a campaign. Nonetheless, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn seized on the issue with a tongue-in-cheek demand for an apology.
The governor said the comment was "disrespectful" in an agriculture-oriented state and "not the right way to talk about anybody or any cow in Illinois."
There's no evidence either cows or voters have taken exception to the remark. Nonetheless, Sanguinetti, in response to reporters' questions during a visit last week to Springfield, expressed her affection for the community and said her comment was all in good fun. The "LOL" in her note, she pointed out, means "laugh out loud."
Of course, anyone with any sense knows the hicks in Sangamon County aren't sophisticated enough to participate in cow tipping because successful cow tipping requires incredible skill, not to mention a really cooperative cow.
What is cow tipping?
For starters, it has nothing to do with cows replacing people as servers in restaurants.
Cow tipping is some kind of urban legend involving purported recreational efforts to sneak up on an unsuspecting upright cow and push it over. Since cows do not sleep standing up, the notion that they can be tipped over, like a desk, is quaint.
A cow that is knocked over will simply get back up again, defeating the entire concept of cow tipping. (Don't even think of trying it with a bull.)
The further implication is that slow-witted rural residents engage in cow tipping because their entertainment options are limited.
That's not true either. Ever since the advent of the horseless carriage, downstaters have more than ample opportunities for fun. Besides, those working in state government are far more interested in pork than beef.
August 15, 2014
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Sharing blame when state agency ignores law
Illinois lawmakers pass a bill to give taxpayers a clearer look at where money goes. Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill, making it law.
What happens next?
A) The law takes effect, increasing government transparency.
B) Absolutely nothing.
C) Absolutely nothing, and when unknowing lawmakers later vote to expand that law, nothing happens with that one, either.
Of course, the answer is C), as reporter Jake Griffin uncovered in a report published Wednesday.
The gap between what the law said should be done and what actually happened raises questions about who's really running the show in Springfield, ratchets up voter cynicism and points out a waste of legislative time, money and effort that could have been spent on other major problems left unaddressed.
Lawmakers and the state Department of Central Management Services share the blame.
The issue began in 2012, when lawmakers sought to expand a public database of state workers' names, job titles and salary. They passed a bill adding county, township and municipal employees to the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal.
But they left a loophole, making the improvement "subject to appropriation." When no money was appropriated, CMS took that to mean it didn't have to do the work. Lawmakers didn't find that out even when they passed another bill last year adding library employees to the database. CMS didn't do that, either.
Obviously, a mechanism is needed requiring state agencies to justify why they don't believe they are bound by any law.
Beyond that, lawmakers and agencies need to agree on cost estimates before votes are taken on a bill. State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat and co-sponsor of the 2012 bill, says adding the data shouldn't have cost CMS anything. CMS claims it would cost $480,000 to add to the database and $240,000 a year to update and maintain it.
Some legislative proposals, but far too few, include fiscal notes detailing their cost, if enacted. Lawmakers might have reasons to skip that step. Who wants his or her name attached to a measure that costs money at a time when the state is so financially strapped? But it's disingenuous to leave that crucial detail unexamined.
We don't have the space to go on about the irony of a government transparency bill that gets deep-sixed without anyone knowing about it. But the people of Illinois need to know that if a law is passed, it will happen.
And if it doesn't pass because we can't afford it, well, that's transparency, too.
August 15, 2014
Sign and drive
For decades, those accused of a significant moving violation — such as speeding, running a red light or making an illegal turn — have ended up leaving their driver's license with police in lieu of posting bail.
Illinois wasn't the only state to require either surrendering of a license or taking a trip to the local police station to post bail unless the driver happened to have a bond card from a travel club or insurance company.
It remained among a handful of states still following the practice, even though law enforcement authorities had the discretion to require only a signature in lieu of bail.
Michigan and Mississippi, for example, still commonly seize the license of out-of-state drivers accused of an infraction. A few other states will take a license for a drinking and driving-related offense.
But since the 1950s, it has been a common practice in Illinois for in-state drivers as well.
Until January, when a measure by state Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin and state Rep. John D'Amico of Chicago that was signed into law this weekend goes into effect.
Instead of a process that was cumbersome for drivers, police and circuit clerks, a driver will be able to sign a citation promising to either appear in court or pay the fine.
While that may seem a sensible approach, there was more of a back story than many can imagine. It was not until 2008 the Illinois Supreme Court started to review the law for the first time since the 1990s. Without the high court clearing the way, such a change could not have been made.
It's a welcome relief, although some police departments worry it will take away any incentive for lawbreaking motorists to show up for court.
That may be — although those caught dead to rights often will just pay the fine instead of fighting the ticket in court anyway.
Although under the previous system the driver would have their license returned once the ticket was settled, that process could take weeks to be resolved. In a world that has become more dependent upon the verification of identity for everything from medical care to banking transactions and flying on a commercial aircraft, the lack of a license created a significant burden for everyday life.
This common-sense legislation won't ease the sting of having to pay a few hundred bucks for a traffic infraction or the time it takes to challenge a citation, but it will remove some of the headache from the process.
June 25, 2014
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
(Republished by The (Kankakee) Daily Journal on August 15, 2014)
Removing obstacles to voting
Voting is the most basic principle of democracy.
Yet few people exercise their right to vote. A lot of it is indifference, but some of it is the obstacles we place in front of people to be able to vote.
So, we were pleased last month when Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill passed by the Illinois Legislature that will remove more restrictions for people who want to cast a ballot in November.
A cynic would suggest these reforms are nothing more than an attempt by Democrats to bring people more likely to vote Democratic to the polls. There's probably some truth to that, but what's wrong with getting more people involved in the process? And what's stopping them from voting for candidates from any party?
This law would allow Election Day registration and would extend the early voting period by a day to the Sunday before the election. It also would let public universities set up a campus location for in-person absentee voting on Election Day. We support all of these actions. We're wary of another provision that removes the photo identification requirement for in-person early voting, but are open to testing it as long as officials watch out for potential voter fraud and an evaluation is done after the November election.
Ten states and Washington, D.C., already allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sponsors of Illinois' bill said they would seek to expand the law beyond November if things went smoothly.
This legislation follows allowing 17-year-olds to vote in last March's primary if they were going to turn 18 before the November general election.
We have an open mind when it comes to removing obstacles from allowing people to vote. We favor these changes for November's election. If all goes well, we hope Illinois lawmakers consider making these changes permanent.
It would be nice if our elected officials spent less time making everything a partisan issue and more time doing what's right for Illinois residents and democracy. This arguing over rules allowed to help more people vote is just the latest example.