Here are excerpts of editorials from newspapers around Illinois.

January 17, 2021

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Acting swiftly, not wisely

Hats off to members of the Black caucus in the Illinois General Assembly.

They introduced four major bills — criminal justice, education, health care and economic equity — on Jan. 8 and passed three of them through the House and Senate in six days. The health care bill was approved in just one of the two legislative bodies.

Their political play using last-minute action by a lame-duck legislature could not have been handled with more sophistication and raw power. The legislation now goes for signature by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

It will be amazing if he, in deference to the politics of the moment, doesn’t swallow them whole.

But while political calculations may have been splendid, the policy questions remain wide open.

Here’s something to consider — the bills were so mammoth and introduced so late that few of those voting really knew what they were voting on. Is that really the way the legislative process should be pursued?

This wasn’t so much following the legislative process as gaming the legislative process.

The fact that these last-minute legislative blitzkriegs have become standard practice over the years in Illinois is no defense. Political reality allowing the majority party — in this case, supermajority Democrats — to do what they did is no justification — purely on the merits — for doing what the General Assembly did in the lame-duck session.

Democrats don’t just have their supermajorities during lame-duck sessions — the period between the November election and the beginning of the newly-elected legislature in early January. They have it 12 months a year.

What’s the problem with holding real legislative hearings, listening to witnesses discuss the provisions in proposed pieces of legislation and having a real debate about how to proceed?

Defenders of this process argue that the Black caucus held a series of online hearings to listen to interested parties discuss general concepts related to these extremely complicated policy proposals.

But those discussions did not result in substantive legislation until Jan. 8, when the measures were introduced by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford. She later explained she did not show her hand until the last minute to avoid having to submit them to public scrutiny and debate.

Once again, that’s a clever, but potentially self-defeating, tactic.

Here’s just one issue that was not addressed — what are these mystery bills that overturn the status quo going to cost? That matters in a state that is effectively bankrupt.

That’s nothing to worry about, argued one legislator, because considering costs is just an impediment to doing the right thing.

That’s a perverse way of looking at it. One could better argue that passing bills the state can’t afford can only undermine governance on a statewide basis.

Everyone who’s paying attention knows that Illinois government at all levels is a disaster area. It’s financially profligate, relentlessly corrupt, oversees far too many units of government and — worst of all — is absolutely committed to expanding the failed status quo.

For every action, there’s a reaction — in this case, people fleeing the state because they have had all they can stand. Who can blame them when so many members of the General Assembly live in an alternative universe where political might makes right regardless of the intended and unintended consequences?

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January 15, 2021

Chicago Tribune

Gov. Pritzker, open the restaurants

Restaurant owners aren’t giving up. They’ve struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic, retrenching to stay in business, investing in safety protocols, re-imagining their menus to offer takeout and delivery fare. They’ve shown indomitable spirit. Most have played by the state’s strict rules. Now it’s time for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to give them a reasonable break.

Governor, reopen the dining rooms.

Pritzker shut down indoor dining in October when the coronavirus outbreak spiked, renewing hardships on a crucial jobs sector. That spike has now tapered. Takeout food is an option for customers, but it’s not the same draw for cooped-up residents, many of whom would be eager to go out to eat, assuming all proper social distancing and hygiene rules are in place.

This is a matter of being fair, reasonable and protective of the economy. “The rules are lopsided against restaurants,” chef Brian Jupiter of Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods told the Tribune. “In December, we saw shopping malls bursting at the seams and that wasn’t an issue. We are sanitizing the living s--- out of everything. Wearing masks. But we still can’t operate.”

Jupiter said his carryout business is down, and he thinks more restaurants will fail. He also said he worries constantly about being fined by the city. He told a frustrating tale of work getting interrupted by authorities pursuing a tip that his restaurant wasn’t up to code.

City investigators are reportedly investigating Rush Street’s Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse to determine whether its owners violated shutdown orders on Jan. 13. A Twitter account for the Chicago Fire Department innocuously tweeted about a small fire there and that “patrons” were evacuated safely. Patrons? What patrons? It was just enough to get inspectors sniffing around.

Isn’t it high time restaurants, one of the most regulated industries in the state, caught a break?

At least we know Mayor Lori Lightfoot sees the unfairness.

With bars and restaurants not open, she said, people are more likely to congregate privately, and not take safety precautions.

Sam Toia of the Illinois Restaurant Association said Illinois is one of only three states with a complete statewide shutdown of indoor dining. That’s despite a study published in Nature magazine that suggests a balance can be struck to keep people safe and protect businesses. The study, based in part on data collected from cellphones, used the Chicago area as an example and said that if restaurants partially reopened with capped maximum capacity at 20%, Chicago could cut down new infections by more than 80% while only losing 42% of overall restaurant visits.

And Jupiter is right about the inconsistencies. You can go to a crowded store or board a crowded aircraft for a long flight — and sit next to strangers breathing the same air for hours — but you can’t sit in a socially distanced dining room. No wonder some restaurant operators are going rogue.

Pritzker closed Chicago’s restaurants when the positivity rate topped the bench mark of 8% for three days. It’s now at about 10%, but current rules require it to be 6.5% or less for three days before reopening. Given everything we know about how COVID-19 is transmitted, restaurants can operate safely.

Given what we know about how the restaurant business is suffering, the right thing to do is to reopen dining rooms before many of them shut down for good.

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January 14, 2021

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

Democrats must move on from Madigan legacy

Michael Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for so long, there are voters today with no memory of anything else.

The longest-serving House speaker in the nation, Madigan was replaced Wednesday after 36 years in the position.

The move was widely anticipated by national observers when Madigan suspended his campaign for the position on Monday. He challenged fellow party members to “work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for speaker.”

That sounded like surrender to many around the country. To cynical Illinoisians weary of Madigan, it sounded like a dare. If you suspected Democrats might not have the stomach to take on the man who’s spent four decades building and tending his power, you were a realist.

That it took less than 48 hours for the Illinois Democrats in Springfield to solve the issue and elect a new leader gives hope to voters that this may not be the same old legislature after all.

The Democrats have an opportunity to show the voters they are a new body by continuing to clean house, to eradicate some of the egregious vestiges of the Madigan era. Embrace the things Madigan refused.

Let committee chairmen and not the Speaker control what goes to the floor for a vote. Enact term limits. Revise political reapportionment fairly, with the guide of what’s best for the people, not what’s best for Michael Madigan and his friends and cohorts.