Illinois Editorial Roundup:

Updated 1/12/2021 9:29 PM

January 12, 2021

Chicago Tribune


Don't rush criminal justice reform in Springfield

Criminal justice reform is both a pressing issue and a complex one. It involves the most basic function of government: public safety. It implicates the life, liberty and property of individual citizens. It affects government budgets for police, courts and corrections. Any change in one area can have repercussions in others. It's not something to undertake in haste.

Yet that's what many legislators in Springfield want their colleagues to do. The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is pushing a wide-ranging 611-page proposal to overhaul the state's criminal justice system - and it wants the legislature to act during its lame-duck session, as many members are preparing to leave office and turn their duties over to newly elected ones. That would mean adopting a raft of major changes by Wednesday without the full, deliberate analysis they need.

We sympathize with the goal of making the system more humane and accountable. The package contains a number of changes that deserve consideration, such as banning police from using chokeholds, requiring them to render medical assistance to injured suspects and mandating investigations and reports when anyone dies in police custody or from police use of force. Removing officer discipline from collective bargaining contracts could make it easier to get rid of bad cops.

But details are crucial. Though there were hearings on criminal justice reform going back to last summer, legislation was filed only last week and details could change on deadline. Count us skeptical that most lawmakers are sufficiently conversant in the fine points of these changes to cast a well-informed vote. Any number of provisions in this mammoth legislation might warrant days of debate, which they won't get in the minimal time available.

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It would eliminate cash bail, which is used to ensure that defendants show up for their court appearances. It would impose assorted restrictions on the use of force by police. It would end 'qualified immunity,' a long-standing legal doctrine that protects officers from being personally held liable for violating rights guaranteed by the state constitution. The change could expose even cops acting in good faith to damage awards that would be financially ruinous to them and their families.

It's not surprising that law enforcement organizations are strenuously opposed to the bill. We're not convinced that the changes would be as much a hindrance to law enforcement as they claim, but we also see nothing to be lost by waiting for the new session of the legislature.

Criminal justice reform is too important for drive-by legislating. When the 102nd General Assembly convenes Wednesday, it should address the issues raised in this bill, make sure members understand all the implications of what it would do and decide which changes ought to be made. Anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do it right.


January 10, 2021

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Legal weed a booming business

The people of Illinois may be suffering from a coronavirus hangover that just won't go away, but sellers of legal marijuana appear to be thriving.


Is there a link between the depressing reality of the pandemic and the booming business of legal-marijuana sales?

Who can say for sure? People were buying lots of the weed when it was illegal, so it's hardly a surprise that there's great market demand after Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislators legalized sale of the substance on Jan. 1, 2020.

But the sales figures speak for themselves.

As of the end of November, sales statewide totaled $582 million, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The combined sales in our state in 2020 of both recreational and medical marijuana exceed $1 billion.

Sales-tax revenue from recreational marijuana totals more than $150 million. Even though that's chump change in the context of the state's deficit

-laden $40 billion-plus budget, it's still a lot of money.

From all public appearances, legalization has been mostly a non-event. Everyone will know more about the private impact on families and individuals after more time has passed and researchers have had greater opportunities to study its social impact.

Public-health advocates warned that legalization would encourage greater consumption that would lead to a variety of problems - more driving under the influence of drugs and mental-health issues, particularly for young people.

But they were mostly ignored as Illinois followed many other states - Colorado, Oregon and Washington, to name three - in pursuing legalization.

Illinois was the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Four more joined that list in the November 2020 election - Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota.

Politico reports that '1 in 3 Americans now live where all adults have access to it.'

Among those expected to join the 15 states plus the District of Columbia in the near future are New York, Florida and Ohio.

Thirty-five states plus D.C. have approved medical marijuana, a historical harbinger of full legalization. It won't be long before the states where marijuana consumption is legal will outnumber - perhaps far outnumber - those where it isn't.

It's a state-by-state movement that, as times and attitudes change, appears irresistible. Federal law still criminalizes marijuana, but officials at that level mostly ignore the prohibition.

Federal legalization is not a high priority of Joe Biden's incoming administration. But there's considerable speculation that Congress will follow the states' lead during his tenure.

Many people may not realize it, but this country has embarked on a great social and medical experiment. For good or ill, what once was considered an evil weed is becoming just another intoxicant.


January 8, 2021

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

We are better than this

Let's call it what it is - a mob action, a riot, an act of sedition. A group of rioters inspired and encouraged by the ongoing fiery post-election rhetoric from President Donald Trump, both from his public appearances and his ongoing clusters of tweets, invaded the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

For the first time since the British accomplished the feat during the War of 1812, invaders breached the seat of our democratic government. While those outside backed the invasion by saying they were marching on 'the people's house,' the violent mob inside was showing contempt with destruction, demolition and theft. A woman was shot inside the Capitol, the first shooting in the building since 1958. She died from her injuries. A Capitol Police officer also has died of injuries he sustained during the melee - bringing the death toll as a result of the violent conflict to five.

This was not making America great again.

We are better than this.

There's no equivalency argument this time of 'there are bad people on both sides.' All involved in destruction of federal property or assault on law enforcement officers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

That's what the president tweeted in July, at least.

Trump has done nothing since the election but destroy his followers' faith in the election system. His mentality left an electoral victory or loss a win-win. If he won, his followers could be praised for overcoming a stacked system. If he lost, well, he told us 'they' weren't going to let him win. He loaded the explosive, lit the fuse, and has spent more than two months trying to get it to burn faster.

His action led to hundreds of felonious acts by hundreds or thousands who spent the entirety of 2020 decrying and demanding punishment for the very behavior they were exhibiting.

The two congressional representatives from Southern Illinois - Mike Bost of Murphysboro and Mary Miller of Oakland - also own a share of responsibility. Bost and Miller both challenged the election results on Wednesday during the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes. They have enabled Trump's quest to overturn a free and fair election because he simply didn't like the outcome.

In a statement the day after his vote to object to the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona, Bost said: 'The deeply troubling scenes at the U.S. Capitol (Wednesday) indicate the intense distrust that many Americans have towards the election process.'

That's true. Bost sowed the seeds of that distrust, along with Trump and more than 100 congressional Republicans, by repeating falsehoods about our election.

Challenges and lawsuits are fine. Election laws are complex. That's why those decisions are argued by lawyers and decided by judges. We leave the jobs of interpreting the law to judges. It's a process that has worked for well in excess of two centuries. If decisions in 60 court cases aren't enough to convince a person that the right decision has been made, then we have many more problems we need to address.

The courts are the key to the post-election debates. Dozens of judges have made decisions that have gone against President Trump's legal team. Judges refused to hear some cases. Judges don't make those decisions based on convenience or position on the political spectrum. They evaluate the laws, and when deciding against hearing cases, they've evaluated lawyers' filings and found them wanting. If we need to go somewhere other than the justice system, then we have many more problems we need to address. You are entitled to your opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.

We are better than this.

We've learned about many election-related facts, traditions and laws that weren't covered in class for those of us lucky enough to have taken civics at any level. These laws have been in effect for decades into centuries. They weren't enacted in 2020 in a grand conspiracy to undermine the election. But when we can't agree on the facts in front of us, especially when the president of the United States fails to acknowledge anything that puts him in a bad light, let alone disputing apparent facts, then we have many more problems we need to address.

We are better than this.

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