WBEZ | Illinois General Assembly http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois-general-assembly Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Illinois Senate passes ride sharing rules http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-passes-ride-sharing-rules-110191 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/1Lyft (AP Photo - Jeff Chiu).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois senators have passed rules for the new, growing industry of &ldquo;ride sharing&rdquo; services, and they appear to be the strictest statewide regulations in the country so far. The package of regulations are contained in a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-house-moves-rein-ridesharing-110011">House bill</a> and a trailer amendment bill, the latter of which will have to go back to the House before both arrive on Gov. Pat Quinn&rsquo;s desk for signing. The rules were largely championed by a coalition of Chicago cab companies, who claim their business has suffered as a result of the proliferation of ride sharing activity.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not trying to stop technology, and everyone that uses it,&rdquo; said Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago), sponsor of HB4075 and its amendment trailer bill HB5331. &ldquo;The only thing we want to do is make it safer, regulate it fairly for everyone in the industry.&rdquo;</p><p>The rules would apply most immediately to services UberX, Lyft and Sidecar, which facilitate ride sharing primarily in the City of Chicago. The three California-based companies provide smartphone app technologies that allow people to use their personal vehicles for hire, much like taxis. So far, they have operated illegally, but a groundswell of consumer support and a fear of alienating technology companies has prompted local and state governments to consider ways to bring them into a regulatory framework.</p><p>Under the bills, commercial ride sharing companies would be required to carry primary commercial liability insurance equal to taxis, with a combined single limit per accident of $350,000. More critically, it eliminates <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/state-legislators-probe-rideshare-insurance-109857">concerns raised by several insurance associations in the state</a> over when that insurance policy would apply. Under the rules, the policies would be effective from the moment a ride share driver logs into the app to accept rides, until logging off. Previously, companies disputed whether their insurance policies should apply, or should apply at such a high level, during times that a driver may be logged onto their app, but not yet en route to or conducting a fare.</p><p>All ride share drivers would also have to carry distinctive registration plates and stickers on their vehicles.</p><p>More frequent drivers would be subject to additional rules, similar to taxi drivers. Those who offer ride sharing services more than 36 hours every two weeks, on average, would have to get public chauffeurs&nbsp; licenses, subjecting them to the same criminal background checks and drug testing as taxi drivers. The rules would allow a four-week grace period, during which these drivers may still offer ride shares while an application for a public chauffeur&rsquo;s license is pending.</p><p>Chicago drivers who average at least 36 hours every two weeks would also have to comply with the city&rsquo;s rules for taxis regarding the age of their vehicles. Currently, this means their cars could be no more than four years old, in most cases. These cars would also be subject to government safety inspections.</p><p>Despite fierce rivalry among ride share companies, they were united in their opposition to the Senate legislation.</p><p>&ldquo;The bill will prohibit insured and background-checked Lyft drivers with cars more than four years old, immediately eliminating 70% of Chicago&#39;s Lyft drivers,&rdquo; read an e-mail from Lyft. &ldquo;This will disproportionately affect low income drivers in the Lyft community who have come to rely on ridesharing as an important way to earn extra money to make ends meet.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Today&rsquo;s vote in the senate will hurt consumers and limit transportation options across the state,&rdquo; wrote Uber Midwest Regional Director Andrew MacDonald, in an e-mailed statement. Uber is the company behind UberX, the ride sharing platform.&nbsp; &ldquo;We will continue to work with state and city officials to ensure uberX has a permanent home in Illinois for consumers to benefit from competition and much needed transportation options,&rdquo; he continued.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it regulates too far, and I think it sends a message that innovation will be kneecapped in Illinois if you compete against a powerful monopoly,&rdquo; said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), during the debate preceding the floor vote. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s not the kind of message we want to send right now.&rdquo;</p><p>The Senate rules still allow local municipalities authority to regulate fare structures for ride sharing services. In Chicago, aldermen are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city-moves-regulate-rideshare-companies-109639">considering an ordinance</a> that gives the city authority to cap so-called &ldquo;surge pricing&rdquo; among some of the ride sharing services. The concept allows them to charge passengers more than the usual amount during times of peak demand.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 16 May 2014 07:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-passes-ride-sharing-rules-110191 Study: Pension savings 'barely dent' Illinois fiscal woes http://www.wbez.org/news/study-pension-savings-barely-dent-illinois-fiscal-woes-109547 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/jimmywayne.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you think Illinois&rsquo; new pension law will fix the state&rsquo;s money troubles, think again.</p><p>Savings from the controversial pension overhaul will &ldquo;barely dent&rdquo; Illinois&rsquo; budget shortfalls over the next decade, according to a new study released Tuesday by researchers at the University of Illinois.</p><p>Even with the new law, Illinois&rsquo; budget shortfall is still on course to grow to $13 billion by 2025, according to estimates produced by U of I&rsquo;s Institute of Government and Public Affairs.</p><p>Chalk it up to state government&rsquo;s propensity to spend more money than it takes in, said Richard F. Dye, who co-authored the study.</p><p>&ldquo;It just doesn&rsquo;t add up,&rdquo; said Dye, an economics professor assigned to the institute. &ldquo;We like government services. We don&rsquo;t like paying taxes. We like politicians that tell us it&rsquo;s gonna be fine. But it ain&rsquo;t fine.&rdquo;</p><p>Backers say the pension law, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/legislature-passes-historic-pension-vote-109287">passed by lawmakers</a> and quickly signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in December, will save the state $160 billion over the next 30 years. Much of those savings comes from scaling back annual benefit increases for state workers, a provision organized labor groups say violates the <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/con13.htm">state constitution&rsquo;s guarantee</a> that benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or impaired.&rdquo;</p><p>But the law&rsquo;s savings are backloaded and will not be fully felt for years, Dye said, even if the law survives legal challenges.</p><p>Illinois would save between $1 billion and $1.5 billion each year for the next decade, according to his analysis. Even with those savings, the state would face a roughly $3 billion hole in 2015, which would swell to $13 billion in 2025.</p><p>Darkening the forecast is the scheduled 2015 expiration of the income tax hike -- aimed at closing the state&rsquo;s budget gaps -- that was <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/quinn-holds-income-tax-increase">championed by Quinn</a> and enacted in <a href="http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/story/illinois-legislature-approves-major-tax-increases">2011</a>. That will mean less money to the state starting next year, unless that law is extended.</p><p>But even if lawmakers do continue the increased tax rate beyond 2015, things do not get much sunnier, Dye said. That would still leave Illinois on track to have its deficit grow to $5.5 billion in 2025.</p><p>&ldquo;We are spending beyond our means,&rdquo; Dye said. &ldquo;And, you know, greater cuts in education or social services are on the way. It&rsquo;s just not sustainable.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 21 Jan 2014 00:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-pension-savings-barely-dent-illinois-fiscal-woes-109547 Illinois gay marriage becomes law as it prompts hope, concern http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-gay-marriage-becomes-law-it-prompts-hope-concern-109201 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/gay marriage passes - AP Seth Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage when Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed a long-awaited&mdash;and hotly debated&mdash;bill into law on Wednesday.</p><p>The bill passed the General Assembly on Nov. 5, after months of lobbying by gay rights activists and opponents of the measure.</p><p>The new reality of gay marriage is prompting both hope and concern for the future among Illinoisans.</p><h2><strong>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s right to love each other&rsquo;</strong></h2><p>&nbsp;</p><p>When Bill Kelley first moved here from Missouri as a teenager in 1959, Illinois was a very different place for gay men such as him. Gay sex then was illegal, though Illinois three years later would become the first state to repeal its sodomy laws.</p><p>Kelley says the Sexual Revolution and the civil rights movement of that era also let gays and lesbians feel freer. He went on to become an established gay rights activist in the years that followed.</p><p>But looking back, the 71-year-old says those changes took root over decades. So Kelley is not expecting any additional major cultural shifts as gay marriage becomes Illinois law.</p><p>&quot;The change in law seldom marks any abrupt change in society,&rdquo; Kelley said. &ldquo;Usually changes in laws follow changes in society as much as they provoke them.&quot;</p><p>Chen Ooi, Kelley&rsquo;s partner of 34 years, was more emotional in describing his reaction to the breakthrough on gay marriage. The 61-year-old choked back tears when he recalled how he felt when he learned the bill was approved by the legislature earlier this month, after many fits and starts.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s [a] civil right,&rdquo; Ooi said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s right to love each other. And yet, it took so long to fight for it.&rdquo;</p><p>Kelley and Ooi don&rsquo;t have a civil union under the law, enacted in 2011, that guaranteed same-sex couples some partnership rights short of marriage. And they say they aren&rsquo;t sure about getting married even though it will now be legal for them to do so.</p><p>That&rsquo;s because they&rsquo;ve organized their entire lives&mdash;finances, estates, health care decisions&mdash;all based on the idea that marriage was impossible, Ooi said.</p><p>Whatever they decide, Kelley says legalizing gay marriage is an important step in changing how people will think about same-sex couples.</p><p>Kelley compared the change to the stance many people took on the federal &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t Ask, Don&rsquo;t Tell&rdquo; &nbsp;policy that, from 1993 to 2011, allowed gays to serve in the military but required them to remain closeted. This was replaced by the current law that allows gay people to serve in the military openly.</p><p>&quot;People who didn&rsquo;t want to join the Army were in favor of repealing &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t Ask, Don&rsquo;t Tell,&rsquo;&rdquo; Kelley said. &ldquo;So it has an impact broader than just the impact that it has on couples like us.&rdquo;</p><h2><strong>&lsquo;Freedom of religion is gone&rsquo;</strong></h2><p>&nbsp;</p><p>That broader impact is exactly what worries some who oppose the legalizaton of gay marriage.</p><p>&quot;Freedom of speech is gone, freedom of religion is gone. And truly, that is what is being eroded,&quot; said Pastor Pat McManus, who heads the non-denominational Kingdom Impact Center in suburban Aurora.</p><p>McManus is in the process of changing his church&rsquo;s bylaws to make it clear he will not perform gay marriages. He says he does not trust the provision in Illinois&rsquo; same-sex marriage measure that already says churches can&rsquo;t be forced to marry gay couples.</p><p>&ldquo;[I] don&rsquo;t believe what they say. ... I believe that&rsquo;ll change down the road. Because once everything begins to start, it&rsquo;s gonna begin to erode all the way down,&rdquo; McManus said.</p><p>McManus says laws have been changing so quickly that he worries one day he will not be allowed to preach his belief that homosexuality is a sin.</p><p>Despite the bill&rsquo;s language, McManus says he&rsquo;s talked to a few other pastors who are also changing their bylaws, just in case they ever get sued for refusing to officiate a gay wedding.</p><p>It&rsquo;s difficult to know exactly how many Illinois churches are taking that step.</p><p>But attorney Rich Baker, who works at a socially conservative Chicago law firm, says he has helped a handful make similar changes, because the bill&rsquo;s religious protections are not strong enough.</p><p>&quot;I think the effect of that really is to say that we will give you freedom of worship within your four walls, but the Gospel outside of the four walls is not welcome,&quot; Baker said.</p><p>Baker points out that the bill&rsquo;s religious protection <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09800SB0010sam002&amp;GA=98&amp;SessionId=85&amp;DocTypeId=SB&amp;LegID=68375&amp;DocNum=10&amp;GAID=12&amp;Session=">clause does not apply</a> to &ldquo;businesses, health care facilities, educational facilities, or social service agencies,&rdquo; and thus could leave them open to lawsuits.</p><p>He points to a recent <a href="http://www.nmcompcomm.us/nmcases/nmsc/slips/SC33,687.pdf">case in New Mexico</a>, where the state Supreme Court ruled against a photographer who refused to take pictures of a same-sex wedding, based on her Christian faith.</p><p>In April, Bob Ferguson, the Democratic attorney general in the state of Washington, <a href="http://www.atg.wa.gov/pressrelease.aspx?&amp;id=31148#.UozZJsSkrPE">sued a florist</a> who refused to sell flowers for a gay couple&rsquo;s wedding.</p><p>Baker contended that gay rights activists in Illinois have been moving the goalposts since civil unions became legal.</p><p>&quot;We were told at that time, that&rsquo;s all that was wanted, that&rsquo;s all that was needed. That was only two years ago,&rdquo; Baker said. &ldquo;And now we&rsquo;re told that, you know, it must be marriage. What will it be next?&quot;</p><p>Exactly what&rsquo;s next in the parallel fights for religious rights and gay rights could become clearer after June 1, when Illinois counties can begin issuing their first marriage licenses to gay couples.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a>&nbsp;and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 20 Nov 2013 11:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-gay-marriage-becomes-law-it-prompts-hope-concern-109201 Advocates work all angles to woo GOP on gay marriage http://www.wbez.org/news/advocates-work-all-angles-woo-gop-gay-marriage-108750 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Equality illinois fundraiser - Alex Keefe WBEZ.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As Illinois&rsquo; gay marriage advocates race to shore up support before next month&rsquo;s legislative session, they&rsquo;ve began courting votes from an unlikely quarter: Illinois House Republicans.</p><p>It&rsquo;s unclear exactly how many in the GOP may buck their party&rsquo;s platform and vote for same sex marriage if the bill is called for a vote when lawmakers return to Springfield at the end of October.</p><p>Leading advocates say privately it could be just a handful of representatives, and they&rsquo;re focusing on those they think could be persuaded, or who are retiring.</p><p>But that uncertainty hasn&rsquo;t stopped a coalition of pro-gay marriage groups from launching a concerted effort aimed at winning over Republicans. The groups are carpet bombing some GOP districts with constituent phone banks, and they&rsquo;re hoping big-name donors, business leaders and prominent Republicans will also lean on lawmakers behind the scenes.</p><p><a href="http://www.illinoisunites.org/">Illinois Unites for Marriage</a>, which comprises more than 60 groups, is targeting House lawmakers in 40 districts, 16 of them held by Republicans.</p><p>Advocates are also offering help with fundraising, to demonstrate that Republicans who vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; on gay marriage could get some campaign cash to protect them if their position leads to a challenge in next year&rsquo;s primary.</p><p><strong>&lsquo;You gotta have money&rsquo;</strong></p><p>The political odd-couple relationship was on full display at an after-work fundraiser on a rainy night last week at P.J. Clarke&rsquo;s, a bar in Chicago&rsquo;s Gold Coast neighborhood.</p><p><a href="http://www.eqil.org/">Equality Illinois</a>, a Chicago-based gay rights group, invited their would-be donors to sip beer and hobnob with the three Republicans in the General Assembly who are publicly bucking their party&rsquo;s platform and supporting same-sex marriage.</p><p>&ldquo;If I do have a primary, which I think is going to happen, you gotta have money to get your message out,&rdquo; said State Rep. Ron Sandack, from Downers Grove. &ldquo;This does that. This helps in that endeavor. There&rsquo;s just no doubt about it.&rdquo;</p><p>Also there was Illinois State Sen. Jason Barickman, from downstate Bloomington, who cast the lone Republican &ldquo;yes&rdquo; vote for gay marriage when it passed the Senate this year on Valentine&rsquo;s Day. The Illinois House adjourned in May without calling the measure for a vote, but Sandack and fellow GOP State Rep Ed Sullivan, Jr., of Mundelein, have pledged their support if it does.</p><p>Equality Illinois is hoping to raise enough money to give at least $5,000 to each candidate, said Jeremy Gottschalk, who heads up Equality Illinois&rsquo; political fundraising arm. The political action committee has already donated that much to <a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/A1List.aspx?ID=23792&amp;FiledDocID=503467&amp;ContributionType=AllTypes&amp;Archived=True">Sandack</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/A1List.aspx?ID=16334&amp;FiledDocID=503031&amp;ContributionType=AllTypes&amp;Archived=True">Sullivan</a>, and they&rsquo;ve also received money from big-name pro-gay marriage donors such as Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, and billionaire Paul Singer, who was integral in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/nyregion/the-road-to-gay-marriage-in-new-york.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0">bankrolling</a> a gay marriage bill in New York.</p><p>At last week&rsquo;s fundraiser, all three lawmakers made arguments to the crowd that seemed more geared toward their Republican colleagues.</p><p>&ldquo;If you believe in the conservative philosophy of pro-family, of freedoms, this is the vote. This is the day,&rdquo; Sullivan told the group of potential donors. &ldquo;And it&rsquo;s unfortunate we don&rsquo;t have more with us. We will. We&rsquo;re working on it.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Building pressure from constituents, big names</strong></p><p>But advocates are also hoping to build pressure from the grassroots level.</p><p>One night last week, about 10 volunteers with Illinois Unites for Marriage gathered over pizza and soda to make phone calls from the community room of a church in west suburban Clarendon Hills.</p><p>The target on this night was GOP State Rep. Sandi Pihos, and the goal was to get constituents to flood her voicemail box with messages supporting gay marriage.</p><p>Martin McAlpin, one of 20 organizers stationed around the state, acknowledges it can be an uphill climb to build support for gay marriage in this traditionally Republican enclave of the western suburbs.</p><p>&ldquo;Wheaton and Glen Ellyn are conservative strongholds, but this is not gonna pass without Republican votes,&rdquo; McAlpin said.</p><p>Pihos later told WBEZ she&rsquo;s still a solid &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote on gay marriage, citing &ldquo;overwhelming&rdquo; opposition to the bill in her district, despite the phone banking. McAlpin has also been targeting Republican State Rep. Patricia Bellock, of Westmont, who did not return phone calls from WBEZ.</p><p>Organizers declined to say exactly which other Republicans they hope to win over.</p><p>But advocates have also recruited prominent business leaders and donors in hopes of pressuring lawmakers behind the scenes. They&rsquo;ve released <a href="http://www.eqil.org/cmsdocuments/Business_Case_for_Marriage_EQIL.pdf">pamphlets</a> arguing gay marriage could boost the wedding industry and attract new talent to the state, and they cast their cause in the frame of limited government.</p><p>The American Civil Liberties Union even recently <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/aclu-hires-former-il-gop-head-pat-brady-lobby-gay-marriage-108537">hired</a> the former head of the state GOP, Pat Brady, to win Republican votes.</p><h2 dir="ltr"><strong>Timing is everything</strong></h2><p>But Brady and other lobbyists for same-sex marriage acknowledge there&rsquo;s one big potential obstacle to winning over Republicans by next month&rsquo;s veto session: Illinois&rsquo; political calendar.</p><p>GOP lawmakers won&rsquo;t officially know whether they&rsquo;ll face a primary challenge until ballot petitions are filed Nov. 25, more than two weeks after the legislative session is over.</p><p>&ldquo;And that&rsquo;s a real concern, the fact that these folks who are leaning toward voting for it because they believe it&rsquo;s the right thing to do might catch a primary,&rdquo; Brady said. &ldquo;So the timing of the veto session ... could be problematic.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, supporters of same-sex marriage aren&rsquo;t the only ones gearing up for a fight.</p><p>Chris Plante is with the National Organization for Marriage, which has been doing its own lobbying against the gay marriage bill in preparation for next month&rsquo;s veto session.</p><p>Plante&rsquo;s group is vowing to help defeat lawmakers who vote in favor of same-sex marriage - especially Republicans.</p><p>&ldquo;[Voters] will not stand for candidates, or for representatives who betray their constituency, who do not vote their values,&rdquo; Plante said. &ldquo;And so the consequence will be that they will lose their seat.&rdquo;</p><p>Plante wouldn&rsquo;t say how much money his group planned to drop in Illinois, acknowledging they&rsquo;ll likely be outspent by proponents of same sex marriage. But he said he is coordinating with the conservative <a href="http://illinoisfamily.org/">Illinois Family Institute</a>, and the <a href="http://illinoisfamily.org/">African American Clergy Coalition</a>, both of which have been trying to appeal to religious lawmakers and some black Democrats.</p><p>Meanwhile, Republicans who have already come out supporting gay marriage, like Rep. Sandack, say the opposition doesn&rsquo;t worry them.</p><p>&ldquo;I have no fear about that,&rdquo; Sandack said. &ldquo;It doesn&rsquo;t cause me any pause. That&rsquo;s part of the process. I signed up for it. If that&rsquo;s what they wanna do, Godspeed.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/akeefe">@akeefe</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 24 Sep 2013 11:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/advocates-work-all-angles-woo-gop-gay-marriage-108750 Limbo on Illinois health marketplace disappoints consumer and business advocates http://www.wbez.org/news/limbo-illinois-health-marketplace-disappoints-consumer-and-business-advocates-107582 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/health market_060613_lw.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois&rsquo; new health insurance marketplace will be run jointly with the federal government for the foreseeable future, which has disappointed consumer advocates.</p><p>The marketplace, also known as the insurance exchange, is where people without health insurance will go to shop under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. States had the option to pass legislation establishing state-run marketplaces, or leave it to the feds.</p><p>Several such bills made their way through the Illinois General Assembly without passing by the end of the legislative session in May. As it stands, Illinois&rsquo; marketplace will be jointly run with the federal government for the foreseeable future.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not gonna have the ability to really have any oversight of the federal exchange,&rdquo; said Jim Duffett, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Better Healthcare. He says the bill would have established a regulatory board representing a broad swath of consumer interests including small businesses, communities of color and people with disabilities, calling the proposed body &ldquo;a very broad-based independent pro-consumer board.&rdquo; It would also have given the state the ability to regulate rates.</p><p>The bill, HB 3227, was passed in the Illinois state senate, but never came to a vote in the house. While it could still progress in the fall legislative veto session, the current limbo means the exchange will be run jointly with the federal government in 2014 based on previous legislation. The future of the exchange in 2015 remains unclear.</p><p>Healthcare and small business advocates had also hoped for a bill to pass this year.</p><p>Danny Chun, spokesperson for the Illinois Hospital Association (IHA), says hospitals supported HB 3227 because they, too, would have had representation on the regulatory board. And IHA supports requiring the insurance industry to cover the costs of managing the marketplace, another provision of the stymied bill. But he said he was not too worried.</p><p>&ldquo;The marketplace is happening,&rdquo; Chun said. &ldquo;Just because they didn&rsquo;t pass it in the spring session doesn&rsquo;t mean the issue isn&rsquo;t going to be called again.&rdquo;</p><p>The Illinois Chamber of Commerce supported a different version of the bill, but had hoped another version would pass this session -- one without the same requirements for insurance companies to fund the exchange.</p><p>&ldquo;Ultimately what ended up passing the Senate we were neutral on,&rdquo; said Laura Minzer, head of the healthcare council for the ICC. &ldquo;But it reflected a lot of the provisions and the principles we wanted to see captured.&rdquo;</p><p>Other key legislation did pass the Illinois General Assembly, including a bill to expand Medicaid in Illinois to low-income adults and a bill to establish licensed Illinois Insurance Navigators. Navigators will help consumers make their way in the new marketplace.</p><p>Beginning January 1, 2014, all Americans will be required to get health insurance or pay a fine. At least 17 states have already opted to create their own insurance exchanges, while 26 states will likely leave it to the federal government. Illinois is among the seven that are currently planning a jointly-run exchange. The federal marketplace, including the one in Illinois, is set to open October 1.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Journalism Fellow. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 07 Jun 2013 07:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/limbo-illinois-health-marketplace-disappoints-consumer-and-business-advocates-107582 After fraud search, Illinois House challenger concedes defeat http://www.wbez.org/news/after-fraud-search-illinois-house-challenger-concedes-defeat-98719 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Guzzardi2scaled.jpg" style="margin: 6px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; width: 295px; height: 196px;" title="Will Guzzardi prepares volunteers Sunday night for a canvass of 39th&nbsp;District voters. He lost a March&nbsp;20 primary to incumbent Rep. Toni Berrios, D-Chicago. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)"></div><p>Six weeks since the Illinois primary, a Democratic challenger who tried to unseat a clout-heavy state House member on Chicago’s Northwest Side is finally conceding defeat.</p><p>Political newcomer Will Guzzardi came within 125 votes of Rep. Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios, who has held the 39th&nbsp;District seat for five terms. He alleged irregularities with the March 20 balloting and mounted an extraordinary <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/door-knockers-seek-fraud-illinois-house-race-98650">search for fraud</a>.</p><p>But Guzzardi did not file a complaint with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners or contest the results in Cook County Circuit Court. The deadline for the court challenge was Monday afternoon.</p><p>“Our attorney has indicated that [our evidence] is probably not enough to sustain a formal legal complaint,” Guzzardi wrote in a Tuesday message to his supporters. “I am formally conceding the election. I’d like to congratulate Representative Berrios.”</p><p>Guzzardi told WBEZ his showing in the race means something: “The machine isn’t invincible. Right up to Election Day, people thought we were foolish for even trying to take it on. The close result proves that organized people and organized communities can stand up to entrenched power.”</p><p>The Berrios campaign has bristled at suggestions that she depended on help she received from Democratic leaders such as her father, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who chairs the party’s county organization. “If [Guzzardi] wanted to run against the machine, he should have run against Joe,” Berrios spokesman Manuel Galvan said on Election Night.</p><p>Guzzardi, 25, said he would consider running for office again. After campaigning full-time for seven months, however, the Brown University graduate said his immediate task was lining up a job.</p><p>“All the issues we raised in the campaign — schools, the economy, foreclosures, government reform — are still pressing,” Guzzardi said. “I want to keep working on them.”</p></p> Tue, 01 May 2012 15:24:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/after-fraud-search-illinois-house-challenger-concedes-defeat-98719 Door knockers seek fraud in Illinois House race http://www.wbez.org/news/door-knockers-seek-fraud-illinois-house-race-98650 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Guzzardi1CROPSCALEsmaller.jpg" style="height: 249px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Will Guzzardi prepares volunteers Sunday night for their canvass of voters in District 39. He lost a March 20 primary to incumbent Rep. Toni Berrios, D-Chicago, by 125 votes. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)"></div><p>After an extraordinary search for fraud, the losing candidate in an Illinois House primary last month says he is considering a last-minute legal challenge to expose “corruption” tied to one of the state’s strongest political chiefs.</p><p>Monday is the last day for 39th District challenger Will Guzzardi to file a petition in Cook County Circuit Court to contest his March 20 loss to Rep. Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios (D-Chicago), who won by 125 votes, or 1.58 percent, of the 7,917 ballots cast.</p><p>The Guzzardi campaign alleges more than a half dozen Election Day irregularities, including a missing precinct voter list, a poll that opened nearly an hour late and inappropriate contact between Berrios operatives and voters. A discovery recount, Guzzardi adds, turned up too many ballot application signatures that don’t resemble what appears on voter registrations.</p><p>On Sunday night, Guzzardi sent out five volunteers to finish a door-to-door canvass to see if those voters cast the ballots. “We want to make sure that voters in this district [and] people around the city can have faith in the election so we can make sure that elections represent the will of the people,” Guzzardi said.</p><p>Berrios spokesman Manuel Galvan said her campaign would not comment unless Guzzardi made his complaints formal.</p><p>“Will has been making these allegations since the election but has never filed them with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, which is what you would do if you had allegations that you were able to substantiate,” Galvan said.</p><p>Board spokesman Jim Allen said door-to-door canvasses seeking signs of election fraud are rare. “I’ve never heard of it in my six years with the board,” Allen said.</p><p>The district includes parts of several Northwest Side neighborhoods, including Logan Square, Hermosa and Belmont Cragin. Berrios has represented it since 2003.</p><p>The Guzzardi campaign has aimed much of its criticism at her father, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who is the county’s Democratic chair and the longtime committeeman of Chicago’s 31st Ward, which covers much of the district. Powerful committeemen often have some influence over the election judges in their ward.</p></p> Mon, 30 Apr 2012 09:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/door-knockers-seek-fraud-illinois-house-race-98650 Act locally, think Broadway: Tax credits for big commercial shows http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-03-02/act-locally-think-broadway-tax-credits-big-commercial-shows-96896 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-March/2012-03-02/6710697131_d7e310a4e8.jpg" alt="" /><p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size:10px;">Listen to Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman discuss tax breaks for theaters on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>, and Chicago Fusion Theatre's 'Las Hermanas Padillas'</span></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="/sites/default/files/120302 848 SEG B_0.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-126862" player="null">120302 848 SEG B.mp3</span></p></div></div><p>Late last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation granting extensive tax breaks to a pair of super-wealthy corporate entities (Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) in response to their threats that they would take their business elsewhere. This legislation, which turned even reformist governor Pat Quinn into a political whore, was widely reported and debated in the media.</p><p>What was not debated and little-reported was that the bill included additional provisions providing tax “incentives” (to use the politic word) for other businesses as well, one of them being Broadway producers of live theater, who now may be granted tax credits similar to those offered movie producers who bring feature film and TV production to Illinois.</p><p>The wording of the theater-related provisions is significantly odd. The preamble states, "It shall be the policy of this State to promote and encourage the&nbsp; training and hiring of Illinois residents who represent the diversity of the Illinois population through the creation and implementation of training, education, and recruitment programs organized in cooperation with Illinois colleges and universities, labor organizations, and the commercial for-profit live theater industry." It reminds me of my high school intelligence tests: “Which of these words does not belong in the group?”</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-02/6710697131_d7e310a4e8.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 463px;" title="(Flickr/Steve Minor)"></p><p>The bill goes on to state that tax credits for Illinois labor and production expenditures will be granted only to producers holding an “accredited theater production certificate,” and that said certificates will be issued only to shows spending $100,000 or more which are performed in theaters of 1,200 seats or more, and either are scheduled for Broadway within 12 months of playing Chicago or are scheduled for a “long-run” here, which is defined as more than eight weeks and at least six shows a week.</p><p>Whether benefiting Sears, the CME or a Broadway show, this bill is an egregious example of special interest legislation, and special interest legislation always is sleazy, sneaky, skanky, shady, greasy, garbanzo and Doc. One thing it definitely is not is Bashful. Each and every piece of it has its defenders and apologists, but the essence of it—literally by definition—is a denial of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Whether in Congress, state legislature, county board or city council, such laws rarely are debated, often&nbsp; are passed in the dark of night (such as being tacked on to some unrelated piece of legislation) and virtually never are transparent. Whenever a piece of special interest legislation is enacted, you can smell the political fat sizzling in the pan.</p><p>Yeah, but this one is <em>my</em> special interest legislation: it serves the industry I cover as a critic and arts business reporter and, if successful, it will make my work and Chicago theater-going a lot more exciting. Whenever our Downtown theaters are doing business, a helluva lot of others also do business: hotels, restaurants, parking garages, taxi cabs, etc. as well as stage hands, electricians, musicians, ushers, concessionaires, actors, etc. All of these service-providers, both individuals and companies, in turn pay their taxes to the city, county and state. The performing arts (and other arts) are a proven economic engine that returns far, far more to the city/county/state than any public dollars invested.</p><p>Maybe this thing actually is good for everyone, even though it directly benefits only a very narrow range of entitites. Who does it benefit? The voting and tax-paying public, in whose name this law was enacted and signed, has every right to ask.</p><p>The bill’s set of parameters could provide tax credits on the one hand for a pre-Broadway show playing here for three or four weeks (as did <em>The Adams Family</em> and <em>The Producers</em> for example) or, on the other hand, for the umpteenth repeat visit by <em>Cats</em> or <em>Mamma Mia</em>, providing they stayed here for at least eight weeks and a day. On that basis, the number of possible producers and production companies is open-ended.</p><p>Far more limiting is the bill’s requirement that an “accredited theater production” must be staged in a venue with 1,200 or more seats. In theory, this could benefit shows coming to the Rosemont Theatre, the Chicago Theatre, the Civic Opera House or Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, for example. However, the current professional theater landscape strongly suggests that the most likely candidates are shows coming to theaters under the Broadway In Chicago brand name.</p><p>Broadway In Chicago (BIC) is the local outpost of the New York-based Nederlander Organization, which owns a huge amount of theater real estate across the country and also invests money in Broadway shows. In Chicago, the Nederlander Organization owns the Oriental, Cadillac Palace and Bank of America theaters, leases the Broadway Playhouse (former Drury Lane Theatre in Water Tower Place) and also programs occasional theater attractions into the Auditorium Theatre, all under the Broadway In Chicago name. With the exception of the 500-seat Broadway Playhouse, all the BIC houses can host “accredited theater productions.”</p><p>BIC makes it money by renting out its properties, and by providing management and marketing services, so the more shows presented in its properties, the merrier all around. It should come as no surprise that BIC executives were among the movers and shakers who moved this bill along. They don’t like their theaters to sit dark and empty for weeks or even months at a time, as the Cadillac Palace and Oriental have been sitting recently (and will through most of the summer).</p><p>The BIC folks, and their bosses at the Nederlander Organization in New York, are nothing if not savvy and smart players. BIC theaters already have played host to numerous long-run attractions and pre-Broadway try-outs. <em>Jersey Boys</em> was here for over 18 months and <em>Wicked</em> for over two years. And pre-Broadway try-outs over the last decade include <em>The Producers</em>, <em>Jekyll and Hyde</em>, <em>Pirate Queen</em>, <em>The Adams Family</em> and <em>Sweet Smell of Success</em>. Now they want more such shows to come more often, hence the tax credit.</p><p>They want the market value of a blockbuster Broadway hit sitting down here for months or years, and they want the glamor of big-name stars trying out a brand-new show. Frankly, I want them, too. Both of these things would make Chicago even more important than it already is as a national theater center, and that would make Chicago’s theater critics—hey, that’s me—more powerful and prominent nationally.</p><p>However, it plays out, this new legislation already has greased the skids: a Broadway In Chicago executive has told me that Chicago will see a half-dozen shows in the next year that will take advantage of the tax credits, the first of them being the pre-Broadway <em>Kinky Boots</em> (with Cindy Lauper) coming in the fall, followed in December by <em>The Book of Mormon</em>, which will sit-down here for a multiple-month run.</p><p>But is there any direct benefit to audiences, to the folks who slap down the debit card to buy the tickets? Will the thousands of dollars in weekly/monthly savings be passed along in the form of lower ticket prices? Will the $100 dollar orchestra seat fall to $80? The $65 balcony seat to $50? The $40 second balcony seat to $25? Now, <em>that</em> would have direct and meaningful value to the Good People of Illinois in whose name this legislation was signed and sealed.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 02 Mar 2012 13:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-03-02/act-locally-think-broadway-tax-credits-big-commercial-shows-96896 Comparing Illinois' money problems to other states' http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-01-30/comparing-illinois-money-problems-other-states-95948 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2012-January/2012-01-30/Illinois_Inaugural_Lea_s640x525.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The beginning of the <a href="http://www.ilga.gov/default.asp" target="_blank">Illinois spring legislative session</a> kicks off Tuesday. This is an election year so it remains to be seen how far out on a limb lawmakers are willing to go to get the state's fiscal house in order.</p><p><em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> was given a preview from WBEZ's state house reporter <a href="http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/author/kristen-mcqueary/" target="_blank">Kristen McQueary</a>. But first, the show took a look at the state of the state: Monday there was a report showing that Illinois was in worse shape that previously thought.<a href="http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/Pages/default.aspx" target="_blank"> Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn</a> will deliver his State of the State address Wednesday.</p><p><em>Eight Forty Eight</em> spoke with Todd Haggerty, policy analyst with the <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/" target="_blank">National Council on State Legislatures</a>, and Ben Adler, state government reporter for <a href="http://www.capradio.org/" target="_blank">Capital Public Radio</a> in Sacramento, to get a sense of how Illinois stacked up against other states.</p></p> Mon, 30 Jan 2012 14:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-01-30/comparing-illinois-money-problems-other-states-95948 Illinois Republicans renew push for tax hike repeal http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-republicans-renew-push-tax-hike-repeal-95515 <p><p>Leaders of Illinois' Republican caucus say an increase in the state corporate and personal income tax has been a failure since it was passed by Democrats nearly a year ago. They’re calling to repeal the hike that Governor Pat Quinn’s office says brought in and additional $7 billion to the cash-strapped state in 2011.</p><p>Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Tom Cross said on Thursday that the tax increase, which is supposed to remain through 2014, has so far failed to solve the state's budget problems. They point to Illinois' recent credit downgrade from Moody’s and what the state comptroller’s office estimates to be $8 billion in unpaid bills as proof.</p><p>“People know we don't have a handle on this budget, and their afraid of that other shoe that's going to drop and what that might look like,” Radogno said.</p><p>The Democrat-controlled House and Senate passed the tax increase in January of last year in the final hours of a lame duck session. The bill raised the personal income tax two percentage points from 3 percent to 5 percent, and upped the corporate rate from 4.8 percent to 7 percent.</p><p>Republicans estimate the average Illinois family now pays an additional $1,000 in taxes a year because of the hike. Cross and Radogno said Thursday that Republicans fear the tax increase will be permanent and accused Democrats of not curtailing spending habits after the increase.</p><p>“The Democrats who passed the tax increase are continuing to spend those revenues and spend it on a path that means the increase will be permanent,” said Radogno. “And we still won’t be able to correct and improve the bottom line here on the state.”</p><p>Legislation to reverse the increase was introduced by Republican State Sen. Matt Murphy weeks after Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law, but no vote has been taken on it. Republicans are in the minority in both the House and Senate, making repeal difficult.</p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn argued the tax hike was needed to keep Illinois' deficit from reaching $15 billion.</p><p>Kelly Kraft works for the Governor’s budget office. She said without the tax increase, Illinois would return to 1998 spending levels.</p><p>“If we repeal the tax increase – unless they propose a plan to repeal reality – we just can’t take the plan seriously,” said Kraft.</p><p>The tax rates are scheduled to drop in 2015. The personal income is scheduled to decrease to 3.75 percent, while the corporate rate is supposed to drop to 5.25 percent.</p></p> Thu, 12 Jan 2012 22:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-republicans-renew-push-tax-hike-repeal-95515