WBEZ | Pat Quinn http://www.wbez.org/tags/pat-quinn Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Hey Gov: An Illinois politics road trip http://www.wbez.org/news/hey-gov-illinois-politics-road-trip-110657 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Bu1yd1ZCcAEYqlk.jpg" alt="" /><p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/hey-gov-an-illinois-politics-road-trip/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/hey-gov-an-illinois-politics-road-trip.js?header=none&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/hey-gov-an-illinois-politics-road-trip" target="_blank">View the story "Hey Gov: An Illinois politics road trip " on Storify</a>]<h1>Hey Gov: An Illinois politics road trip </h1><h2>WBEZ political reporters Alex Keefe and Tony Arnold took off from Chicago and drove along the Illinois River until the hit the State Fair. All along the way, they stopped to ask people what they want from the next governor. </h2><p>Storified by <a href="https://storify.com/WBEZ">WBEZ</a>&middot; Thu, Aug 14 2014 16:56:40 </p><div>WBEZ&apos;s @akeefe &amp; @tonyjarnold are following the Illinois River to the State Fair, asking citizens what they want from a governor. #HeyGovWBEZ</div><div>Best Game in Town: Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair by WBEZ's Afternoon ShiftThe Illinois State Fair hosts &quot;Governor's Day&quot; today at the fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois. Governor's Day is the traditional rally and picnic for the Illinois democratic party. Tomorrow is Republican Day. The big story is how Governor Quinn has changed the format of today's festivities.</div><div>Gov. Quinn heads to Illinois State Fair to rally his base by WBEZ's Morning ShiftThe Illinois State Fair brings out politicians, special interest groups and voters looking to get some answers from candidates. Incumbent Governor Quinn is following the same pattern as last year and making Wednesday's Governor's Day at the Fair a family event rather than an opportunity to hash out political agendas.</div><div>What Walt Willey, Ottawa #il native and longtime &quot;All My Children&quot; soap star, wants from the next gov http://t.co/IFmdwcg9u9 #heygov @WBEZAlex Keefe</div><div>A brief history of Ottawa, #IL, in mural form. #heygov @ Illinois River, Ottawa IL http://t.co/LpoCI5xsA8Alex Keefe</div><div>.@akeefe is driving me to Springfield. At least if we take a wrong turn I know we have a map. http://t.co/0ZBKrpc8E7Tony Arnold</div></noscript></div></p> Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/hey-gov-illinois-politics-road-trip-110657 On education, candidates for Illinois governor closer than they think http://www.wbez.org/news/education-candidates-illinois-governor-closer-they-think-110575 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/rauner-christie.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The Republican candidate for Illinois governor says he&rsquo;ll soon be talking more about his top priority: education. Bruce Rauner has been involved in education for years, giving lots of money to schools and programs he believes in. But expanding his vision in Illinois&rsquo; political climate is another matter altogether.</p><p>Bruce Rauner, the Republican venture capitalist, has made a name for himself in education - literally. Rauner College Prep is a charter school on Chicago&rsquo;s near west side. He&rsquo;s also been recognized by education groups for his philanthropic work.</p><p>&ldquo;Education is simply the most important thing we do together as a community. There&rsquo;s nothing more important,&rdquo; Rauner said during a debate organized by ABC 7 and Univision in the Republican primary. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s our future. It&rsquo;s our democracy. It&rsquo;s our income level. It&rsquo;s at the core of every challenge that we face.&rdquo;</p><p>Sources say Rauner was active behind the scenes in one of the biggest education policy initiatives to pass the state legislature in recent years. Senate Bill 7 was later signed into law by Rauner&rsquo;s now-Democratic opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn.</p><p>The legislation dealt with teacher strike votes, evaluations and tenure. But when negotiations around those issues veered away from Rauner&rsquo;s own vision, he distanced himself from the bill.</p><p>Some who&rsquo;ve worked closely with Rauner on education issues say debates like that are why he is running for governor - to have the authority &nbsp;to put his stamp on education policy.</p><p>&ldquo;More charter schools, vouchers for poor kids, merit pay for great teachers, modified tenure so ineffective teachers aren&rsquo;t locked in jobs forever,&rdquo; Rauner said in that same debate.</p><p>But a governor&rsquo;s accomplishments are rarely solitary efforts. &nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s a pretty unique example, but 10 years ago, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich was in full rhetorical mode for an hour of his State of the State address. He spent more than an hour of his 90-minute address completely trashing the state&rsquo;s education board.</p><p>&ldquo;The Illinois State Board of Education is like an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy,&rdquo; Blagojevich said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s clunky and inefficient. It issues mandates. It spends money. It dictates policy and it isn&rsquo;t accountable to anyone for anything.&rdquo;</p><p>Blagojevich called for abolishing the Illinois State Board of Education and creating a new cabinet department under his office - a Department of Education.</p><p>The idea went nowhere. Blagojevich didn&rsquo;t get legislators or interest groups on board.</p><p>That bit of history points to the political structure Rauner would have to work with.</p><p>More charter schools?</p><p>That means getting the legislature&rsquo;s okay.</p><p>School vouchers?</p><p>That&rsquo;s also a legislative issue.</p><p>Paying teachers based on the quality of their work?</p><p>He&rsquo;d likely have to get lawmakers on board.</p><p>&ldquo;I think whether this is a Governor Rauner or a Governor Quinn, what we&rsquo;re finding is there&rsquo;s a lot more support by legislators quietly to support some transformative policy,&rdquo; said Myles Mendoza with Ed Choice Illinois. His organization is a non-profit that wants to expand educational alternatives for families.</p><p>Mendoza said a good example of the bipartisan movement around education change is Gov. Quinn&rsquo;s Democratic running mate, Paul Vallas. Vallas ran public schools in Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.</p><p>&ldquo;Both Paul Vallas and Bruce Rauner have really been aligned, very, very similar in their thinking of how they would approach education policy,&rdquo; Mendoza said.</p><p>I asked Mendoza if it&rsquo;s weird, seeing Republicans and Democrats &nbsp;aligned that way.</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly does scramble the radar,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>What he means is that Vallas, a Democrat, and Rauner, a Republican, have taken similar stands against teachers unions and the Democrats who traditionally support them.</p><p>Dan Montgomery heads the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a union that represents about 80,000 teachers in the state, including charter schools.</p><p>Montgomery said politics has framed the debate around education in the wrong context.</p><p>&ldquo;The challenges we have in this state are not about tenure, you know? They&rsquo;re not about merit pay,&rdquo; Montgomery said. &ldquo;The challenges we have in the state are parents who look around and they say, &lsquo;How come my kid&rsquo;s school doesn&rsquo;t have a library?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>He says Bruce Rauner has made unions the enemy, and his economic and tax policies are examples of the misguided debate. Montgomery repeats something Quinn&rsquo;s campaign often says, that Rauner&rsquo;s plans will lose the state millions and he&rsquo;ll end up having to cut education funding.</p><p>Montgomery says unions should get ready to find support in the legislature to resist negative education changes if Rauner&rsquo;s elected.</p><p>But they should also be ready for another tactic: That Rauner would go around the legislature altogether with executive orders.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him </em><a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold"><em>@tonyjarnold</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Jul 2014 11:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/education-candidates-illinois-governor-closer-they-think-110575 Prison health care worker finds request for medical care after inmate dies http://www.wbez.org/news/prison-health-care-worker-finds-request-medical-care-after-inmate-dies-110470 <p><p>On July 28, 2012, Elawndoe Shannon put in a request for sick call at the prison where he was housed in Lawrence, Illinois. Two days later, he died. The day after his death a nurse in the health care unit finally got his request slip for medical care.</p><p>&ldquo;That means somebody took it and just said, &lsquo;Oh it don&rsquo;t matter, ain&rsquo;t nothing wrong with him.&rsquo; That&rsquo;s crazy!&rdquo; said his sister Jackie Shannon in a recent interview on the front porch of her house on Chicago&rsquo;s South Side.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody&rsquo;s entitled to see a doctor. I don&rsquo;t care, you could live in a hole somewhere. If you come out of that hole and you&rsquo;re sick, you should be able to see a doctor. How many other ones in there that need to see the doctor are not seeing a doctor?&rdquo; she said.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157870823&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="736.25px"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s not unusual for Illinois inmates to complain that they have trouble seeing doctors.</p><p>In another story, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-inmate-dies-3-hours-after-seeking-medical-care-110460">WBEZ reported on Anthony Rencher</a> who went to the prison health care unit in the middle of the night where he was observed in the waiting room for an hour before he returned to his cell where he died.</p><p>And then there&rsquo;s the case of Daniel Nevarez.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202014-07-10%20at%2012.15.56%20AM.png" style="width: 620px;" title="Salvador Nevarez sitting on the front stoop of his home near Midway Airport with his son, Alonzo. (WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)" /><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px;">Letter from the grave</span></p><p>Daniel&rsquo;s brother Alonzo Nevarez sits on the front stoop of his dad&rsquo;s bungalow near Midway Airport and reads through a letter his brother Danny wrote from prison.</p><p>&ldquo;We got the letter after Danny passed, and it was, it&rsquo;s him talking from the grave actually,&rdquo; said Nevarez.</p><p>It&rsquo;s in Spanish and Alonzo translates while he reads. &ldquo;The reason for this card, to beg you to help him, he&rsquo;s sick, and the people from this facility, no me quieren, they don&rsquo;t want to help me. These people are not taking me serious. I need help.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157730343&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><blockquote><p><strong style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);">Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/natural-causes-death-illinois-prisons-110455" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-variant: inherit; font-weight: inherit; line-height: inherit; vertical-align: baseline; text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150); outline: 0px;" target="_blank">Man who died of prostate cancer showed symptoms in prison 14 years before death</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>According to medical records, in March of 2010 Nevarez complained to a prison health care worker of pain in his knee. The prison took an X-ray but found nothing. The doctor prescribed some drugs and told Nevarez to exercise as much as possible.</p><p>A year later Nevarez was still complaining about his knee. He was prescribed Motrin and referred to a doctor. The next two appointments with the prison doctor were cancelled, one because of understaffing and another one because there was no security escort.</p><p>&ldquo;He called when he was in prison complaining that they were ignoring him. They wouldn&rsquo;t let him see the doctor,&rdquo; said Nevarez.</p><p>The medical records also show that on several occasions Nevarez refused to see health care workers. In one instance he&rsquo;s quoted as refusing to see the prison doctor because he wants to be immediately taken for surgery on his knee. On another occasion he refuses to pay the $2.00 co-pay and is therefore denied care.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px;">Cancer diagnosis</span></p><p>When the mass on his knee was diagnosed as cancer 15 months after his first complaints, the tumor was hard to miss. It was 5 centimeters by 5 centimeters by 3 centimeters.</p><p>Daniel&rsquo;s father Salvador Nevarez said his son was complaining that the prison wasn&rsquo;t giving him health care,&nbsp; so the family had a lawyer contact the prison.</p><p>Nevarez went to an outside hospital where the tumor was removed. He also went for 33 radiation treatments. A year after his treatments on December 13, 2012, Nevarez once again sought medical care. According to records he appears to have fainted and gotten a cut above his eye when he fell.</p><p>He told doctors his head hurt and he couldn&rsquo;t remember things. A doctor at the facility seems to have decided Nevarez was lying in an attempt to get drugs. The way it&rsquo;s recorded in the medical record is: &ldquo;appears to be med seeking.&rdquo;</p><p>Nevarez was sent back to his cell. He fell into a coma. A CT scan of his head was taken and it showed he had two large, dense brain tumors and swelling in his brain. He died that day at the age of 31.</p><p>The autopsy states, &ldquo;Given the lack of follow up care and systemic chemotherapy for this patient, in combination with with the poor prognosis in general for such a tumor, it is not surprising that he developed widespread metastases a year after diagnosis.&rdquo;</p><p>In the death review the department handed over to WBEZ, where it asks, &lsquo;Was an earlier intervention possible?&rsquo; the answer is redacted. On the non-redacted version given to the family, it says the cancer diagnosis could have been made sooner, though it says it was, &ldquo;probably too late for significant intervention.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px;">Seeing a doctor &#39;can take months&#39;</span></p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a symptom of an overloaded system that it takes forever to get over to a doctor,&rdquo; said Alan Mills, an attorney specializing in prison litigation. &ldquo;And then once you&rsquo;re there you don&rsquo;t see the doctor right away, you go through two or three screening processes before you finally get to see a doctor. So that can take months.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;There are red flags all over the place,&rdquo; said Mills. &ldquo;But without the details, you have to get beyond just saying, &lsquo;well this person died too soon.&rsquo; You don&rsquo;t know that unless a doctor looks at the medical records and says, &lsquo;no this test was done or this test wasn&rsquo;t done, this is what the follow should have been and it wasn&rsquo;t.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>That work is now being done by a doctor appointed by a federal judge as part of the class action suit Mills filed over health care.</p><p>The State of Illinois pays a company called Wexford Health Sources more than $100 million a year to provide health care in the prisons. Wexford did not return repeated calls for comment over the last two weeks. That&rsquo;s just the most recent refusal&mdash;WBEZ has had an ongoing request for an interview with the company for almost two years.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202014-07-10%20at%2012.16.06%20AM.png" style="width: 620px;" title="Attorney Alan Mills says a review of health care in the Illinois Department of Corrections by outside medical experts will answer a lot of questions. (WBEZ/Robert Wildeboer)" /></div><p>Attorney Alan Mills has studied the contract between Wexford and the state.</p><p>&ldquo;Wexford gets paid the same amount whether they provide a lot of care or a little care, so therefore, every time they provide care their stockholders lose money. So that is a fine model, but you have to have some control to make sure that they&rsquo;re actually providing the care that you&rsquo;re contracted to giving them. Nobody in the state of Illinois regularly audits the Wexford contract, either financially, or more importantly, a health audit to see what the outcomes are that we&rsquo;re getting,&rdquo; said Mills.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px;">IDOC won&#39;t discuss Mills</span></p><p>Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer won&rsquo;t discuss issues raised by Mills. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not going to discuss anything that Alan Mills says because Alan Mills has been proven to state things that are false, so I&rsquo;m going to respectfully decline to include any information coming from Alan Mills in this interview. Anybody else you want to talk about, fine, not him,&rdquo; said Shaer.</p><p>The medical director who oversees more than $100 million Illinois pays Wexford for medical care refused to speak to WBEZ.</p><p>WBEZ asked Gov. Pat Quinn&rsquo;s office about the medical director&rsquo;s refusal to discuss medical care. After an initial conversation the governor&rsquo;s office simply ignored follow-up calls and emails from WBEZ.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px;">Illinois prisons have low death rates compared to other prisons</span></p><p>Shaer says focussing on just a few cases does not give an accurate picture of health care in the department. He points to Bureau of Justice statistics showing Illinois&rsquo; prison system has one of the lowest death rates in the country compared to other prison systems.</p><p>&ldquo;We have pretty high standards here. We do the best we can within our ability to monitor that and if we felt that our ability wasn&rsquo;t adequate, we would find a way to address that,&rdquo; said Shaer.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24.44444465637207px; line-height: 22px;">Independent experts should provide some answers soon</span></p><p>&ldquo;I see enough things that tell me there are really some warning signs here. I mean there are problems,&rdquo; said State Rep. Greg Harris.</p><p>Harris held committee hearings last year to dig into allegations of poor care.</p><p>&ldquo;You know in the testimony, in the contacts from individual families, in the lawsuits that have been settled and paid by the state for deaths that should have been preventable, I know there are things that we should have done that we did not do and that there are probably things that we ought to be doing better now,&rdquo; said Harris.</p><p>As a result of the hearings, Harris concluded that no one in Illinois is paying close attention to the $100 million the state pays Wexford every year. Harris brought in the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to audit health care, both the finances, and the health outcomes.</p><p>He says independent experts who know how to evaluate health care in a prison setting are looking at the system and should provide some answers soon. That audit is in addition to a federal court monitor who is also evaluating Illinois&rsquo; prison health care system in response to complaints.</p></p> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 00:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/prison-health-care-worker-finds-request-medical-care-after-inmate-dies-110470 Illinois inmate dies 3 hours after seeking medical care http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-inmate-dies-3-hours-after-seeking-medical-care-110460 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 6.17.11 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p>Keith Dean has a manila envelope that causes him a lot of grief and regret, but he can&rsquo;t throw it out. On his front porch, by the light of a single lamp next to his front door on a quiet street in Gary, Indiana, he turns the envelope over in his hand.</p><p>&ldquo;I always looked at this envelope on the outside when I&rsquo;m going through my office trying to organize, throw away stuff I don&rsquo;t need but I never threw this away. I just kept it in a file,&rdquo; said Dean.</p><p>But Dean hasn&rsquo;t looked at the envelope for a couple years and can&rsquo;t actually remember what&rsquo;s in it. He knows it was some medical stuff from his brother in prison but when he opens the envelope he is surprised to find a letter from his brother as well. He pulls it out and reads from it to me.</p><p>&ldquo;&lsquo;This doctor has endangered my life by failing to provide me with the proper follow ups and examinations. I need to get out of this facility before something happens to me, man.&rsquo;&nbsp; That was dated February the 5th, 2011. Almost a month later, he passed away,&rdquo; Dean said with his eyes downcast.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">What are families supposed to do?</span></p><p>Kevin Dean was 49 when he died. Keith Dean says his brother used to complain all the time that he needed medical care and the prison wasn&rsquo;t giving it to him. Once Keith called the prison and was told that his brother was receiving proper care. Beyond that he wasn&rsquo;t sure what he was supposed to do. He still doesn&rsquo;t know.</p><p>&ldquo;He was sending me this to show me that definitely, there&rsquo;s something wrong, and they&rsquo;re not taking the proper steps as far as his medical care and I just didn&rsquo;t, I didn&rsquo;t know it was as bad as it was,&rdquo; said Dean. &ldquo;I just didn&rsquo;t believe it. I figured you&rsquo;ll be alright, you&rsquo;ll be okay and I have to live with that. I just wished I had a paid attention, man.&rdquo;</p><blockquote><p><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/natural-causes-death-illinois-prisons-110455" target="_blank">Man who died in prison of prostate cancer showed symptoms 14 years before death</a></strong></p></blockquote><p><span style="font-size:24px;">IDOC: Care is &#39;adequate&#39;</span></p><p>&ldquo;We do our job constitutionally and legally. Is it the best health care in the world? No, but it is adequate and that&rsquo;s our job,&rdquo; said Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer in a recent interview at the State of Illinois building in Chicago&rsquo;s Loop.</p><p>Between 80 and 100 people die behind bars in Illinois every year. The average age of the people who die is 54. The Department of Corrections says it carefully reviews every death, but information on deaths provided to WBEZ was scattershot and incomplete.</p><p>WBEZ has been reviewing IDOC records regarding deaths in custody in 2011 and 2012 and we&rsquo;ve found some cases that seem especially egregious.</p><p>For example, according to an incident report by a nurse at the Vandalia prison, on October 2, 2011 an inmate named Anthony Rencher went to the health care unit at 2 a.m.</p><p>In her report the nurse notes Rencher was complaining that he didn&rsquo;t feel well and couldn&rsquo;t walk. The nurse then wrote, &ldquo;but he could walk.&rdquo; I go over the nurse&rsquo;s report with IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer. Here&rsquo;s our exchange:</p><p>&ldquo;She says no abnormal findings,&quot; I said. &quot;She says she observes him in the waiting room for an hour. At 3 a.m. he requests to go back to his cell. To me that make very eminent sense. He goes for medical care, he doesn&rsquo;t get any, there&rsquo;s no tests run, there&rsquo;s nothing being done&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Let me ask you this right now,&rdquo; Shaer said.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, let me finish,&rdquo; I said.</p><p>&ldquo;No let me finish,&quot; Shaer said. &quot;So you just decided that the reason he asked to go back to his cell is that he didn&rsquo;t get the treatment, rather than he may have been feeling okay. How do you know why he made that decision? You just presumed that he decided that because he didn&rsquo;t get the care he sought so that&rsquo;s why he went back to his cell. How do you know he didn&rsquo;t decide to go back because he no longer had symptoms?&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Because he died two and a half hours later,&rdquo; I said.</p><p>&ldquo;Okay,&quot; Shaer asked. &quot;How do you know that he had symptoms at the time, two and a half hours before his death?&rdquo;</p><p>According to the report, after sitting in the waiting room in the prison&rsquo;s health care unit for an hour at three in the morning, Rencher returned to his cell where he died. Shaer says unfortunately many of us know people who die unexpectedly without any warning signs.</p><p>&ldquo;To say that he went there and got no treatment is inaccurate. That&rsquo;s just not accurate,&rdquo; said Shaer. &ldquo;If he&rsquo;s in the healthcare unit being seen by a medical professional he is getting treatment and this inmate did.&rdquo;</p><p>To be clear, Shaer is a press spokesman, not a doctor. Dr. Louis Shicker, the medical director of Illinois&rsquo; Department of Corrections, refused to talk with us about the $100 million in medical care he oversees.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">IDOC: Documentation is difficult</span></p><p>Two years ago, after hearing complaints about health care, WBEZ submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for incident reports for all inmate deaths in the Department of Corrections. The department denied the FOIA, and fought it through an appeal to the attorney general of Illinois, saying it would be too burdensome. They said it would take months to collect the information because it&rsquo;s kept at all the different prisons around the state.</p><p>When WBEZ threatened to sue, the department did finally hand over documents, but the records were incomplete to say the least, and did not even reflect all the deaths that occurred. For example, the department says 97 inmates died in 2011 but the records handed over to WBEZ as part of a legal proceeding stretching out over the course of a year reflect only 79 deaths, omitting 18.</p><p>&ldquo;Eighteen out of 97, we don&rsquo;t feel, is indicative of a major problem with getting you the information you&rsquo;re entitled to. But I would say anything less than a hundred percent is not satisfactory. There are different levels of being unsatisfactory. This is a moderate level of dissatisfaction that we have and we&rsquo;re looking into it but I can&rsquo;t tell you why you asked for 97 and got 79,&rdquo; said Shaer.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">ACLU: Don&#39;t count on IDOC stats</span></p><p>&ldquo;If you say you look at every death and analyze what happened and how to fix it, that should be readily available and if it&rsquo;s not, what does that tell you?&rdquo; said Benjamin Wolf, the associate legal director of the ACLU of Illinois.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I also don&rsquo;t think any of the department&rsquo;s statistics are ones that I would count on as being accurate,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The ACLU is one of the parties in a federal class action lawsuit over health care in prison.</p><p>&ldquo;When we decide whether to jump into a major class action we want to make sure it&rsquo;s a good commitment of our limited resources, including our limited staff, and this problem emerged as one of the most serious civil liberties problems in this state,&rdquo; said Wolf.</p><p>Wolf says before deciding to join the health care case the ACLU did some research. They hired experts in correctional health care to go through lots of records and policies and data.</p><p>&quot;It looked to them like there were very serious problems and very serious deficiencies including some deficiencies that may have caused people to die,&rdquo; Wolf said.</p><p>As part of the class action suit, the court has now appointed an expert who is doing a review of health care inside Illinois prisons. It means an independent doctor has access to all the medical records and death reviews and is going into the facilities as well.</p><p>&ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re going to learn that the department&rsquo;s excuses for these things and defenses for a lot of these things are not persuasive and that their system is in fact deeply flawed and dangerous to the inmates,&rdquo; said Wolf.</p><p>Wolf says, when the expert report becomes public, Illinois citizens will have a much more accurate picture of health care inside Illinois prisons.</p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 06:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-inmate-dies-3-hours-after-seeking-medical-care-110460 Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons http://www.wbez.org/news/natural-causes-death-illinois-prisons-110455 <p><p dir="ltr"><em>Updated 11:45 a.m. July 9, 2014</em></p><p dir="ltr">When Doris Green married an inmate in prison, she knew it was kind of weird, and yet for her it was also normal. As a prison chaplain the Rev. Green says she performed more than 20 weddings between inmates and women on the outside.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;No one else wanted to bring people together like that because it&rsquo;s something wrong with that because they&rsquo;re criminals,&rdquo; Green said in a recent interview at an office on Chicago&rsquo;s South Side where she runs a prison ministry program. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m like, &lsquo;aw, c&rsquo;mon now.&rsquo; They wanted me to do it because none of their chaplains wanted to, so I didn&rsquo;t care. I loved it. I loved counselling with them and preparing for their wedding and making sure their families got there and I did all that. Sure did.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Green says she eventually fell in love with and decided to marry Michael Smith, inmate N40598.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s my time, and I&rsquo;m gonna do this and here&rsquo;s your volunteer ID. Take it back,&rdquo; Green said.</p><p dir="ltr">She says she knows it was a little scandalous.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It is. I&rsquo;m so bad and I&rsquo;m a minister too. I&rsquo;m so bad you know, but whatever. Who tells who, who to love?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">When Green gave up her work as a prison chaplain she stayed involved in prison issues. She&rsquo;s currently the director of correctional health and community affairs for the Aids Foundation of Chicago. She helps connect inmates leaving prison with health care on the outside. Because of her job she knows health care workers in the Department of Corrections. But that didn&rsquo;t make much difference when her husband got sick.</p><p dir="ltr">On May 19, 2011, Smith died of prostate cancer. Green pulls out a medical record that she keeps protected in plastic. &ldquo;PSA was 7.6, high, they put in parenthesis &lsquo;high,&rsquo; and look at the date on here.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The date is December of 1997. Fourteen years before he died of prostate cancer a prison medical record shows he had a high PSA, which is an indicator of prostate cancer. The record says &ldquo;needs follow up,&rdquo; but Green says 14 years later her husband died from prostate cancer that hadn&rsquo;t been treated.</p><p dir="ltr">Between 80 and 100 people die each year inside Illinois prisons. WBEZ has sought information about those deaths, but the Department of Corrections under Gov. Pat Quinn is taking a &ldquo;trust us, nothing to see here&rdquo; attitude. However, persistent and disturbing complaints from inmates and their families make it hard to just move along.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Symptoms too obvious to ignore </span></p><p dir="ltr">Green says in 2011 her husband was getting up to urinate five times a night and was in extreme pain. That followed a decade of complaints of back pain, noted in the medical record. Green pushed the prison system to get him to a doctor at an outside hospital.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;So when the urologist tested him, really gave him the biopsy, it was Stage 4 prostate cancer and bone cancer in his back,&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">The treating physician says at that point the PSA level had risen from 7.6 in 1997 to 250.6. &nbsp;He says he then prescribed an anti-hormonal injection, but that the Department of Corrections must never have given Smith that injection because the next time he saw Smith the PSA level was 892. He says the cancer should have been diagnosed much earlier.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I know everybody,&rdquo; said Green. &ldquo;I got them on speed dial, the director, all of them. I work with them and help people make sure they have health care. I couldn&rsquo;t get it for my own husband. I could get, I could talk to the people but I couldn&rsquo;t get the people, as the wife, I couldn&rsquo;t get the people to respond to the urgency of my husband&rsquo;s condition.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Green says she didn&rsquo;t find out about that 1997 test with the high PSA level until after her husband&rsquo;s death.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img a="" alt="" and="" any="" at="" before="" care="" class="image-original_image" custody="" dramatically="" entering="" had="" have="" health="" hepatitis="" higher="" hiv="" idoc="" inmates="" issues="" many="" national="" not="" of="" or="" other="" percentage="" received="" regular="" serious="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/deathage.png" style="height: 196px; width: 500px;" than="" the="" title="*Source: WBEZ review of Illinois state prison death records for 2011 and 2012. **Source: Center for Disease Control, 2011. According to IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer: &quot;The 'young people' entering IDOC custody have a percentage of Hepatitis C, HIV and other serious health issues dramatically higher than the 'national average' and many inmates with serious health issues had not received regular health care (or any at all) before entering IDOC.&quot;" with="" young="" /></div></div></div></div><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Spouse kept in the dark</span></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We couldn&rsquo;t do anything about something we didn&rsquo;t know,&quot; Green said. &quot;And when I say that, I ran across that one page after I got his medical records sent to me. That&rsquo;s when I seen the medical that he&rsquo;d had that prostate cancer, prostate test way back then. These people knew what was happening in my husband&rsquo;s body and just didn&rsquo;t tell him and didn&rsquo;t tell me! They knew he was suffering! It&rsquo;s all in here!&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">While pushing for medical care for her husband Green says she&rsquo;d also been asking the governor&rsquo;s office for compassionate release so her husband could die at home, but that didn&rsquo;t happen. She says he died in his cell.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;And that same day he died I got a call from the governor&rsquo;s office asking to meet with me about Michael Smith,&quot; Green said. &quot;And the receptionist that called me was so, I can feel it in her voice. I felt that I wanted to comfort her in some way. I told her, I said, he just died. And she said, I&rsquo;m so sorry. C&rsquo;mon. Too much. Too late. Too much. It&rsquo;s too late but it&rsquo;s not too late for those that are in there.&quot;</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">IDOC: Green&#39;s claims &#39;false&#39;</span></p><p dir="ltr">The Illinois Department of Corrections strongly disputes Green&rsquo;s version of events. IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer says privacy laws prevent him from defending the department&rsquo;s track record in the case of Green&rsquo;s husband, but, &ldquo;I can tell you that the claims made by the third party in this case, Ms. Green, are filled with false statements covering the time from inmate Smith&rsquo;s diagnosis in 1997 and his death 14 years later, after I believe, I&rsquo;m not sure, she married him while he was in prison. There are many false statements covering that time. I wish I could get into further specifics but I can&rsquo;t do that. She evidently can. We legally cannot,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size:24px;">Medical director won&#39;t discuss care</span></p><p dir="ltr">The medical director for the Department of Corrections refused to discuss medical care, even in general terms, with WBEZ because of pending litigation. But there are always lawsuits pending. In fact, according to Shaer, there are 4,600 lawsuits against the Department of Corrections right now. Nonetheless, Shaer says citizens should be confident in the health care inside prisons.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Things happen in health system,&rdquo; said Shaer. &ldquo;If they happen here, when we investigate we find them and we take whatever action is appropriate. I&rsquo;m not saying that there was any such action appropriate in this individual&rsquo;s case, or any particular case. I am telling you that we do the same thing as hospitals do. We review our performance of our staff, our vendors and we take action when appropriate.&rdquo;</p><p>According to Bureau of Justice statistics, Illinois has one of the lowest inmate death rates in the country. Shaer says that&rsquo;s proof that Illinois is providing good care.</p><p>&ldquo;The total number of deaths, the overall issue with people dying in Illinois prisons is absolutely a non-story,&rdquo; said Shaer.</p><p><em>Reporting on deaths in Illinois prisons will continue throughout the week.</em></p><p><em>Patrick Smith contributed to this report. </em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img a="" alt="" and="" any="" at="" before="" care="" class="image-original_image" custody="" dramatically="" entering="" had="" have="" health="" hepatitis="" higher="" hiv="" idoc="" inmates="" issues="" many="" national="" not="" of="" or="" other="" percentage="" received="" regular="" serious="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/image (4).png" style="height: 487px; width: 620px;" than="" the="" title="*Source: WBEZ review of Illinois state prison death records for 2011 and 2012. **Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics report on mortality in local jails and state prisons, 2011. According to IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer: &quot;The 'young people' entering IDOC custody have a percentage of Hepatitis C, HIV and other serious health issues dramatically higher than the 'national average' and many inmates with serious health issues had not received regular health care (or any at all) before entering IDOC.&quot;" with="" young="" /></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 23:24:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/natural-causes-death-illinois-prisons-110455 Cook County judge considers term limits http://www.wbez.org/news/cook-county-judge-considers-term-limits-110374 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/votingline_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A Cook County judge heard oral arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging two efforts seeking to change how the Illinois political system operates. The two separate ballot initiatives would ask voters to weigh in on everything from adding term limits for state legislators to how legislative districts are drawn.</p><p>Challenging the two petition drives are the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the Business Leadership Council, as well as a number of individuals. They include former ComEd CEO Frank Clark and housing developer Elzie Higginbottom.</p><p>The challengers&nbsp; are represented by Richard Prendergast and Mike Kasper, an attorney who has also represented the Democratic Party of Illinois and Rahm Emanuel, although Emanuel and Michael Madigan, the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and chairman of the state Democratic Party, are not parties on the lawsuit.</p><p>Prendergast told Cook County Judge Mary Mikva in a hearing Wednesday that the state Supreme Court rejected a previous attempt to add term limits. He argued the effort goes against the Illinois constitution, which states that &ldquo;amendments shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects.&rdquo;</p><p>To help it stand on firm legal footing, the term limit initiative also includes other components besides limiting a lawmaker from holding office more than eight years. It also reduces the number of Illinois state senators while slightly increasing the number of state representatives and increases the number of votes needed to override a governor&rsquo;s veto.</p><p>Prendergast equated those other provisions to &ldquo;ornaments&rdquo; on a Christmas tree to please the judge. He said voters may struggle with the ballot question, since a voter could support term limits but oppose a reduction in state senators, and that those topics should be separate questions.</p><p>But Mark Campbell, a spokesman for the committee trying to get term limits on the ballot, said it&rsquo;s within the limits the Illinois Supreme Court set when they ruled against a term limit initiative 20 years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;What we did was specifically outlined by the Supreme Court as to what the requirements are to get on the ballot and we are very confident that our initiative, as written, does pass muster.&rdquo;</p><p>Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, backs the term limits initiative.&nbsp; But the elections board is continuing to review the effort to create a bipartisan panel to draw legislative district boundaries, rather than having the boundaries drawn by political parties. Legislative boundaries are redrawn after each census.</p><p>The redistricting process was also before Judge Mikva Wednesday in the same lawsuit, with similar legal arguments from both sides. Kasper argued that ballot initiative would take away power from the governor, the attorney general and lawmakers, in addition to altering the eligibility of judges.</p><p>&ldquo;Anything that&rsquo;s directly related to the purpose of the amendment, which is to alter the redistricting and to make it non-partisan, which these conflict of interest rules are, is fair game,&rdquo; said Michelle Odorizzi, an attorney for the redistricting ballot initiative.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold.</a></em></p></p> Wed, 18 Jun 2014 17:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cook-county-judge-considers-term-limits-110374 Mayors blast pension fix for cops, firefighters http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-blast-pension-fix-cops-firefighters-110227 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr_matt Turner_springfield_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A group of mayors and municipal groups from across Illinois is deriding an influential lawmakers&rsquo; blueprint for stabilizing their police and fire pension funds, some of which are teetering on the brink of insolvency.</p><p>The Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities Coalition, which comprises nearly 100 mayors and municipal groups, released a statement Thursday night claiming the package from State Sen. Terry Link risks leaving their pension funds in even worse financial shape.</p><p>&ldquo;This proposal is not an &lsquo;agreement&rsquo; that brings comprehensive and long-term solutions, but merely window dressing that covers up the real impact on taxpayers and allows the unsustainable public safety pension crisis to continue to spiral out of control,&rdquo; the statement reads.</p><p>Link, a Waukegan Democrat, outlined several proposals to municipal leaders and police and fire lobbyists this week that he said would provide stability to more than 600 public safety pension funds outside of Chicago. Altogether, those funds are projected to be underfunded by at least $8.4 billion.</p><p>Link has not yet introduced his proposals in bill form, and it&rsquo;s unclear whether he will before lawmakers head home for the summer at the end of next week. But the blueprint he outlined during a closed-door meeting, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/springfield-nears-pension-deal-downstate-cops-firefighters-110219" target="_blank">first reported by WBEZ</a>, would ease restrictions on how and where pension funds can invest their money, with the goal of allowing them to earn more in the stock market.</p><p>Link also wants to rejigger the makeup of the hundreds of five-member boards that govern public safety pension funds, and he aims to give smaller funds more investment power by allowing them to pool their money.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s Link&rsquo;s call for a five-year moratorium on further pension changes that would spell doom for the grander hopes of suburban and downstate mayors.&nbsp; They&rsquo;ve been calling for a cut to the three percent compounding annual pension benefit increases given to cops and firefighters, higher retirement ages, more contributions from workers and scaled back &ldquo;pension sweeteners&rdquo; - their term for benefit enhancements that state lawmakers have approved over the years.</p><p>To that end, Link&rsquo;s blueprint merely &ldquo;nibbles around the edges,&rdquo; said Mark Fowler, executive director of the Northwest Municipal Conference, which lobbies for dozens of northwest suburbs.</p><p>&ldquo;If you put a moratorium in on addressing any pension sweeteners or pension changes, you&rsquo;re five years down the road...[and] the problem continues to spiral out of control and you&rsquo;ve got pensions in Illinois that will not be able to pay out benefits,&rdquo; Fowler said.</p><p>Mayors around Illinois have been lobbying for years to have police and fire pension benefits reduced, but their efforts seemed to be gaining some traction this year, after state lawmakers <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/legislature-passes-historic-pension-vote-109287" target="_blank">overhauled pensions</a> for state workers and for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989" target="_blank">some in Chicago</a>. Towns across Illinois complain that ever-rising state-mandated pension contributions are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-suburbs-grapple-their-own-pension-crisis-110166" target="_blank">crowding core services out of their budgets</a>, while they watch the health of many pension funds continue to decline.</p><p>While the coalition blames benefit enhancements for their skyrocketing pension costs, unions and some actuaries claim the spike comes courtesy of a decades-old funding mechanism that backloads pension contributions.</p><p>Link has suggested he won&rsquo;t go for the type of benefit cuts included in other recent pension laws because he believes they violate a clause in the state&rsquo;s constitution that says pension benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished.&rdquo; The controversial new state pension law is now on hold, pending the outcome of several court challenges.</p><p>But Fowler said that shouldn&rsquo;t stop pension reform for downstate police and fire funds.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t quite understand why those were constitutional decisions or those were proposals that passed the muster of the General Assembly, yet we&rsquo;re not allowed to even present those proposals,&rdquo; Fowler said.</p><p>Representatives for downstate police and fire pension funds did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Senator Link has not returned several phone calls from WBEZ.</p><p>But earlier this week, Link said he may officially introduce his pension changes &ldquo;fairly soon.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;And I think that this is something that everybody agrees on,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-ece037e0-2a71-69d8-b578-db2facad95ff"><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> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 23 May 2014 13:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayors-blast-pension-fix-cops-firefighters-110227 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 Chicago suburbs grapple with their own pension crisis http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-suburbs-grapple-their-own-pension-crisis-110166 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/pothole - AP Charles Rex Arbogast.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On a recent drizzly weekday afternoon, Mt. Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek climbs into the back seat of an official white village SUV.</p><p>She&rsquo;s guiding a tour of her local pension crisis.</p><p>Behind the wheel, Assistant Village Manager Dave Strahl hangs a right down Forest Avenue, on the northern end of this upper middle-class northwest suburb. In a few seconds, he&rsquo;s slaloming around potholes on a road that&rsquo;s crumbling, awash in gravel.</p><p>&ldquo;We fell behind in our street maintenance,&rdquo; Juracek explains, leaning forward from the backseat. &ldquo;So as your revenue sources are limited and your costs are escalating, you start to make the tradeoffs. ... One of the most escalating costs is the pension costs.&rdquo;</p><p>Even Juracek admits there is not a direct correlation between potholes and pensions.</p><p>But mayors around Illinois are complaining of a similar trend: State-mandated local pension contributions for police and firefighters are straining local budgets, threatening to squeeze out money for basic government services. Yet according to a <a href="http://cgfa.ilga.gov/Upload/2013FinancialConditionofDownstatePoliceFirePA96-1495.pdf" target="_blank">state study from last year</a>, the total projected future debt for suburban and downstate public safety pensions has ballooned at least eight-fold since the early 1990s.</p><p>That has mayors warning of deeper service cuts, higher taxes and compromised retirement security for cops and firefighters.</p><p>Experts and municipal groups say mayors are even more anxious because, starting next year, a new Illinois law takes effect that will enable the state to intercept tax dollars from towns that don&rsquo;t pay enough into their police and fire pension funds.</p><p>A <a href="http://pensionfairness.org/" target="_blank">coalition</a> of nearly 100 towns and municipal groups is finally sitting down with state lawmakers and labor leaders to try to stabilize those pensions. But the group fiercely disagrees with police and fire unions over what caused the underfunding - and how to fix it.</p><p><strong>Budget pressures</strong></p><p>Illinois has more than 600 individual, locally-controlled pension funds for cops and firefighters outside the city of Chicago. And the trend in Mt. Prospect is similar to that seen in towns and cities across the state, regardless of their size or economy.</p><p>The village has seen the health of its local police and fire pension funds steadily decline over the last several years. It&rsquo;s projected that each will have just more than half of the money it needs to pay out in future retirement benefits, a ratio known as the &ldquo;unfunded liability.&rdquo; But all the while, the village&rsquo;s required police and fire pension payments have nearly quintupled since 1997.</p><p>Mayors like Juracek say this puts pressure on local budgets in ways that are beginning to hit residents.</p><p>In the suburbs, Elk Grove <a href="http://www.elkgrove.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=2041" target="_blank">recently passed</a> a utility tax just to pay for pensions. Downstate Bloomington approved a <a href="http://www.cityblm.org/index.aspx?page=575" target="_blank">similar measure</a> late last month.</p><p>Officials in Niles say rising pension costs contributed to a recent sales tax hike. And in Fox River Grove, northwest of Chicago, the mayor says he may have to choose between borrowing money to build a new train station, and borrowing money to bolster his police pension fund, which is projected to have just about a quarter of the money it will need to pay retiree benefits in the future.</p><p>Mayors around Illinois say the economic recession dealt a large blow to their local pension funds. But they also blame what they call &ldquo;<a href="http://pension.iml.org/page.cfm?key=3536" target="_blank">pension sweeteners</a>&rdquo; - that is, benefit enhancements passed by state lawmakers, who must approve all changes to pension law.</p><p>Many mayors claim the increases are an unfunded mandate, pushed by powerful police and firefighter unions and okayed by Springfield lawmakers.</p><p>Longtime suburban Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski says state accused lawmakers are often &ldquo;happy to be the purveyors of largesse at our backs.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t have a money tree in the back that I&rsquo;m saying I just don&rsquo;t wanna give to you guys,&rdquo; said Mayor Gayle Smolinski, of suburban Roselle. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m talking about real money that&rsquo;s coming in from my taxpayers, many of them who don&rsquo;t have pensions anymore.&rdquo;</p><p>The coalition is <a href="http://pensionfairness.org/page.cfm?key=11348" target="_blank">asking</a> the General Assembly to scale back the three percent compounding annual benefit increases given to downstate cops and firefighters. Lawmakers <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/legislature-passes-historic-pension-vote-109287" target="_blank">recently approved</a> similar cutbacks for the state of Illinois&rsquo; pension funds, and for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989" target="_blank">Chicago laborers and municipal workers</a>. Unions are <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/unions-file-lawsuit-over-pension-changes-109588" target="_blank">suing</a> over the state-level benefit changes, claiming they violate the Illinois constitution.</p><p>The coalition also wants to raise the retirement age for downstate and suburban police and firefighters, and make them contribute more toward their pensions out of each paycheck. They would also consolidate the hundreds of local pension funds across Illinois to save money on administrative costs, similar to the way <a href="http://www.imrf.org/info/about.htm" target="_blank">municipal workers&rsquo; retirements</a> are structured.</p><p>Illinois State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, has been spearheading talks between municipal groups and police and fire lobbyists.</p><p>&ldquo;Then we&rsquo;re putting it off a year or better before we can, uh, try to help the problem,&rdquo; Link said. &ldquo;So that&rsquo;s what I&rsquo;m trying to do right now, is work on some things that can be done without causing, uh, a court case. And then the taxpayers could see some relief immediately.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>&lsquo;Not about potholes&rsquo;</strong></p><p>But lobbyists for police and fire pensions in Springfield say mayors have been misleading the public about the nature and cause of the pension problems.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s definitely not about potholes,&rdquo; said Sean Smoot, a lobbyist with the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois, which represents downstate police pension funds.</p><p>Smoot said the choice these mayors are presenting - cutting basic services or paying public safety pensions - is a false one.</p><p>And Smoot rejects the claim that mayors and municipal interest groups had no hand in increasing public safety pension benefits over the years.</p><p>&ldquo;These pensions sweeteners that they like to point to, those didn&rsquo;t happen without their agreement,&rdquo; Smoot said. &ldquo;So, for them to turn around and say...&rsquo;General Assembly, you put these unfunded mandates on us,&rsquo; it&rsquo;s just simply not true.&rdquo;</p><p>Pat Devaney, with the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, maintains retirement benefits didn&rsquo;t cause this crisis.</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s a great talking point for them to stand up at a press conference, deliver, and not accept any responsibility for what&rsquo;s gone on in their community,&rdquo; Devaney said.</p><p>In fact, Illinois pension benefits for cops and firefighters outside of Chicago are actually less generous than similar plans across the country, according to an analysis for WBEZ by the non-profit Urban Institute, and Washington, D.C. think tank.</p><p>That&rsquo;s largely because cops and firefighters here do not get Social Security, said Richard W. Johnson, who heads up the institute&rsquo;s Program on Retirement Policy. Johnson&rsquo;s analysis found that Illinois&rsquo; downstate public safety workers also pay more than average toward their own pensions, though they do not have to pay Social Security taxes.</p><p>Instead, Devaney said municipalities shouldn&rsquo;t be allowed to wriggle out of making their required pension payments. He contends towns have been making artificially low contributions for decades - though they should have anticipated the present problems.</p><p><strong>&lsquo;We saw it coming&rsquo;</strong></p><p>Rather than &ldquo;pension sweeteners,&rdquo; longtime Illinois police and fire pension actuary Art Tepfer said the rapidly rising pension costs that towns are struggling with came about by design.</p><p>&ldquo;This is the way that Illinois retains it&rsquo;s No. 1 ranking as having the worst-funded pension funds in the country,&rdquo; said Tepfer, who serves as an actuary to more than 100 downstate and suburban public safety funds in Illinois.</p><p>Tepfer points to a 1993 change in state law, when legislators approved a pension funding scheme that functioned similar to an adjustable-rate mortgage: low payments at first, but rapidly rising payments in the future.</p><p>&ldquo;Well, we&rsquo;re in the future now,&rdquo; Tepfer said. &ldquo;This is what&rsquo;s happened. And that&rsquo;s why we have a pension crisis. We saw it coming.&rdquo;</p><p>Tepfer said smaller funds are also limited in how much money they can invest in stocks, which limits the amount of money they can make on their investments.</p><p>Back on the tour of Mount Prospect, Assistant Village Manager Dave Strahl points out a whopper of a pothole that&rsquo;s eaten the road to its very foundation.</p><p>The longer it goes unfixed, the worse it gets.</p><p>Mayor Arlene Juracek leans in from the back seat to say that&rsquo;s the same reason state lawmakers need to change downstate police and fire pensions - soon.</p><p>&ldquo;If not now, when?&rdquo; Juracek asks. &ldquo;You need to start because the problem gets worse every single year. You need to start at some point in time and really get the ball rolling and impress on everybody the urgency of getting a solution.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe" target="_blank">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028" target="_blank">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 12 May 2014 12:27:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-suburbs-grapple-their-own-pension-crisis-110166 Madigan drops property tax mandate in pension bill http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Pat-Quinn-AP-Seth-Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is removing a controversial provision from a Chicago pension bill that would have required the City Council to raise property taxes in order ease the city&rsquo;s nearly $20 billion pension crisis.</p><p>The move to strip the property-tax language in the bill came late Monday, just a few hours after Gov. Pat Quinn signalled he would not back a proposed property tax hike that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing in order to bolster the ailing pension funds for Chicago laborers and municipal workers.</p><p>&ldquo;Working with legislative leaders, bill sponsors, the Governor, and our partners in labor, we have addressed their concerns and can now move forward to save the retirements of nearly 60,000 city workers and retirees in Chicago,&rdquo; Emanuel was quoted as saying in an emailed statement late Monday afternoon.</p><p>But the removal of the property tax language doesn&rsquo;t mean Emanuel&rsquo;s tax hike proposal is going away. That plan, which would bring the city $750 million in revenue over the next five years, still seems to be central to the mayor&rsquo;s plan to pump more money into the city&rsquo;s pensions.</p><p>The difference is that state legislators, who must approve changes to Illinois pension law, don&rsquo;t have to worry about being blamed for raising Chicago property taxes during an election year. The bill&rsquo;s original language mandated that the City Council raise property taxes to pay for pensions. The latest version allows the city to use &ldquo;any available funds&rdquo; to make its annual payments.</p><p>Speaking at an event Monday morning, Emanuel said he is not trying to hang a potential property tax hike around legislators&rsquo; necks.</p><p>&ldquo;It was never anybody&rsquo;s intention to have Springfield deal with that,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s our responsibility. But I do believe to actually give the 61,000 retirees and workers the certainty they deserve, you need reform and revenue. And we&rsquo;ll deal with our responsibility.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel said he will continue to &ldquo;address people&rsquo;s concerns&rdquo; about the pension plan, though he would not speak directly to its fate in the City Council, which would also need to approve any property tax hike.</p><p>To placate public worker unions who had wanted a dedicated revenue stream, Madigan&rsquo;s changes also beef up the penalties if City Hall wriggles out of paying its pension contributions. The bill directs Illinois&rsquo; Comptroller to cut off state funding to the city indefinitely if it doesn&rsquo;t pay its pension tab, and it gives pension funds the right to sue City Hall in order to get their money.</p><p>The new bill would also guarantee that retirees who make $22,000 or less in annual benefits would get a cost-of-living increase of at least 1 percent each year. Prior proposals set the annual increases at the lesser of 3 percent or half the rate of inflation. Right now, city laborers and municipal workers get a guaranteed annual benefit increase of 3 percent, which builds on the previous years&rsquo; increases.</p><p>The changes to the mayor&rsquo;s proposed pension fix came just hours after Gov. Pat Quinn slammed Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve gotta come up with a much better comprehensive approach to deal with this issue,&rdquo; Quinn said at an unrelated press conference. &ldquo;But if they think they&rsquo;re just gonna gouge property taxpayers, no can do. We&rsquo;re not gonna go that way.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn, a populist Democrat who is seeking re-election in November, has made property tax relief central to his 2015 state budget proposal. And while he shot down Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike, the governor did not offer an alternative source of revenue for Chicago pensions.</p><p>&ldquo;I think they need to be a whole lot more creative than I&rsquo;ve seen so far,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>State legislators could consider the new amendment as soon as Tuesday.</p></p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983