Reparations & Reefer: What You Missed At Chicago City Council | WBEZ
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Reparations, Reefer, Reforms: What You Missed At Chicago City Council

September in Chicago means school is back in session — and so is the City Council.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and aldermen took up their own version of the three Rs: reparations, recreational marijuana, and reforming Chicago’s vehicle fines and fees.

Here’s what you missed.

Black politicians call for slavery reparations

A coalition of black and Latino elected officials introduced a proposal to create a 16-member commission to “ensure equity, equality, and parity for citizens of African descent in Chicago who are mired in poverty.”

The coalition pushing for the panel is led by former mayoral candidate and South Side businessman Willie Wilson. The proposed commission would include the mayor, five members of City Council, and 10 community members. It would hold public hearings and develop a plan to “engage the City of Chicago and its citizens of African descent in full reparations measures.”.

“We’re at the bottom or the top of every key category — top when it’s bad, bottom when it’s good,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward, co-sponsor of the measure and the former chair of the City Council’s black caucus. “We don’t have to study it anymore, we have to implement it. So let’s implement it. Reparations now.”

Illinois state Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said he also plans to introduce a reparations measure in the General Assembly in January. A similar resolution was introduced in Springfield in early 2017, but it went nowhere.

“Our objective today is to pick up that mantle, to pick it up where it left off and to move it forward,” Davis said before the City Council meeting.

Where could you buy legalized weed in Chicago?

Lightfoot formally introduced her plan Wednesday for regulating where marijuana dispensaries could operate within city limits. Under the proposed rules, the sale of weed in the Loop would be banned and the number of licenses available to new operators would be spread out across seven geographic zones.

“The primary goal is to make sure we’re spreading the opportunity to participate in all facets of this business to all areas of the city,” Lightfoot said, noting that most current medical marijuana businesses are on the North Side right now.

Cannabis businesses would also not be allowed to open within 500 feet of a school or in residential areas. State law bans the use of recreational cannabis in all public places, and by anyone under 21.

Chicago can choose to tax recreational cannabis up to 3 percent, but Lightfoot has not yet said whether she’ll propose a tax that high.

Vehicle fines and fees reforms approved

Anybody who’s ever returned to their Chicago parking spot only to find a dreaded orange envelope tucked under the wiper blade may be happy to know the city took initial steps toward overhauling its punitive ticketing and debt collection system.

“The city sticker ticket debt is crazy,” said Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia. “Only one out of three city sticker tickets are being paid a year. This is debt on our books we are never going to see and if we keep this debt on the back of our communities, they can’t get jobs, they can’t get child care, they can’t drive to work. What is that as a society?”

The changes approved Wednesday will end the city’s longstanding practice of suspending people’s driver’s licenses over unpaid parking tickets. It also makes it so that the $200 fine for not having an up-to-date city sticker can’t double to $400, and the late payment fee is now capped at $50.

The changes come after a months-long investigation by WBEZ and ProPublica Illinois that showed how unpaid tickets have sent tens of thousands of black and low-income motorists into bankruptcy.

Vaping ban sent where bills go to die

The mayor has been vocal in recent days about the need to crack down on vaping after a national spike in illnesses and deaths related to the practice. But on Wednesday, she clashed with Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, when he tried to introduce and immediately pass an ordinance that would place a “total ban of vaping, e-cigarettes and all associated items” within city limits.

Lightfoot referred the measure to the Rules Committee, known among City Hall insiders as the place proposed ordinances go to die.

“He was clearly out of order,” Lightfoot said after the meeting, brushing it off as a “political stunt” from Lopez, who has frequently butted heads with the new mayor.

Earlier this week, Lightfoot joined Illinois Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in Chicago to call for a narrower ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in the city. She has said she plans to introduce an ordinance outlining specific regulations, but she didn’t do so on Wednesday.

Confidential watchdog investigations may be released “soon”

The public may soon know more about the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald and other confidential investigations by Chicago’s inspector general. That’s after the Council passed an ordinance introduced by Lightfoot in July.

Earlier this year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson said the public didn’t know the full story of what happened the night that white police officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old. Ferguson called on city officials to release the documents and records included in his 2016 investigation into the highly-publicized incident.

But when a reporter asked Lightfoot when she plans to release the information now that municipal law allows it, she said her team was “working to get those documents ready” and would only give one word to describe the timeline: soon.

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