Lester: Suburban lawmakers refund leadership stipends after report

After the Daily Herald reported two suburban lawmakers were getting $1,506 checks for two days of work, state Reps. Peter Breen and Keith Wheeler decided to refund the money to the state.

House Republican spokeswoman Vicki Crawford confirmed the decision this week but provided no further comment.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin last week named Breen, of Lombard, and Wheeler, of Oswego, to leadership posts. By making it effective for Monday and Tuesday, the final two days of the 99th General Assembly, Durkin made each eligible for a full $1,506 stipend for the month.

The new legislative session - and another pay period that includes the stipend - began Wednesday. Members of the General Assembly make a base salary of $67,836.

Lawmakers - like schools and social service providers - are in a long line of those awaiting checks from the state, which has gone without a budget since July 2015.

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Cristina Castro

New members sworn in

New lawmakers were sworn in on Wednesday for the 100th General Assembly, including state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin, who replaces fellow Democrat Michael Noland of Elgin. Republican state Rep. Steven Reick of Harvard replaces Democrat Jack Franks of Marengo, and state Rep. Nick Sauer of Lake Barrington replaces fellow Republican Ed Sullivan of Mundelein.

Castro, a former Kane County Board member and volunteer for former Gov. Pat Quinn, reflected that during Quinn's inauguration six years ago today, “who would have imagined that today I would take the oath to be the next state senator for the 22nd District. It is a humbling experience, one I do not take lightly. The position comes with great responsibility to help move our state forward and out of the fiscal crisis.”

<h3 class="leadin">Meanwhile

Chicago Democrat Michael Madigan was elected as House speaker for the 17th time since 1983. In the end, he was not challenged for the post by suburban Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, who quoted Robert Frost's “The Road Not Taken” in a news release. Drury instead abstained from voting for Madigan ­- or anyone else - by voting “present.”

In the state Senate, President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, and Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont made a rare move to limit themselves to five terms, or 10 years, as leaders.

<h3 class="leadin">Suburban roots

The first Democrat to officially throw his name in the ring for the 2018 gubernatorial race has suburban roots. Chicago 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, 36, grew up in Des Plaines and is a 1998 Maine East High School graduate. Pawar says he's going to run on a progressive platform appealing to a wing of the Democratic Party energized by the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders last spring. Other rumored contenders include Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy of Kenilworth.

<h3 class="leadin">Above target

Cook County's annual sustainability report, released this week, shows the county surpassed its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. By updating building control systems and replacing and modernizing boilers and chillers, emissions have decreased by 22 percent since 2010 - well above the 10 percent target. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's chief of staff, John Keller, says the reduction has saved taxpayers more than $5 million in utility costs during that time.

<h3 class="leadin">Right to Work struck down

A federal court judge struck down Lincolnshire's “Right to Work” ordinance - a key piece of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's pro-business “Turnaround Agenda” allowing some employees to decide not to pay union dues. U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled that the village's 2015 law was pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act, which says only states and territories have the authority to enact such laws. The suit was brought by the International Union of Operating Engineers Locals 150 and 399, the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and the Laborers District Council of Chicago and Vicinity. Lincolnshire's the only village in the area to take such action. Elk Grove Village moved to endorse the concept through a resolution but recently withdrew its support after IUOE Local 150 threatened a lawsuit.

My colleague Russell Lissau pointed out last year that Lincolnshire officials approved the controversial ordinance without first getting an opinion from their own attorney, village emails indicate.

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Jen Charapata and her three daughters installed a "Blessing Box" outside St. John United Church of Christ in Aurora that contains free food for needy residents. Courtesy of Allan Benson

'Blessing Box' installed

Sort of like the Little Free Library movement, and with an even more charitable sentiment, a “Blessing Box” now is in the yard at St. John United Church of Christ in Aurora. Jen Charapata and daughters Erin, Megan and Katelyn set up and filled the small, wooden, weatherproof box with nonperishable foods and pet supplies for needy east-side residents.

“Take what you need; Bring what you can. Be a blessing to all” is inscribed on the clear plastic door. The Rev. Cyndi Gavin, St. John UCC pastor, concluded Sunday's 10 a.m. worship service by dedicating the box.

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Two suburban lawmakers get $1,506 checks — for two days of work

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