Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody

Well, it sure has been an interesting couple of weeks. I think that a day off could be just what everybody needs right about now.

Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ante Up for a Good Cause

Once again, you've got a chance to do something good and have a great time doing it.

Next Thursday, November 29, join Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias; Chicago Sun-Times Columnist & Host of "At The Movies" Richard Roeper; Former Chicago Bear Christopher Zorich, and other local celebrities at the First Annual Aces UP! Celebrity Charity Texas Hold’em Tournament, and compete for over $10,000 in prizes.

(click invite for more information)

Founded by Tim King, Urban Prep is Chicago's first and only charter public school for boys. Urban Prep’s mission is to provide a high-quality and comprehensive college-preparatory educational experience to young men in order to prepare them to succeed in college and beyond. The school is a direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal graduation and college completion rates among boys in urban centers. The school is stepping up in a big way to do some great things.

I'll even give you some free advice to help you do well in the tournament - sit at Treasurer Giannoulias' table :)

See you there.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rod v. Illinois

For over a week, I have maintained that everything about how the Administration rolled out its attempted expansion of FamilyCare smacked of an intention to create a legal confrontation with the General Assembly.

My initial inclination was that a lawsuit would be filed challenging the authority of JCAR. Had I thought it through more thoroughly, however, I should have seen this coming.
On Tuesday, the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules turned down the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services' request for an emergency expansion of the Family Care program. The bipartisan panel of lawmakers was established in 1977 to oversee rules proposed for state programs. Its decisions generally are followed.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich contended Friday, however, that the committee does not have the ability to stop the Family Care expansion.

"JCAR's role is merely advisory - it does not have the constitutional authority to suspend the regulation," Abby Ottenhoff said in an e-mail...

Ottenhoff would only say that the governor's office has no plans of its own to challenge the committee's authority in court.

In other words, the Administration has decided to ratchet up its disregard and contempt for the Legislature, the Illinois Constitution, and by extension, the citizens of Illinois, by going forward with plans to provide expanded health care coverage despite a clear question as to their authority to do so, and despite the JCAR's suspension of the HFS emergency rule.

Let me repeat what I have said in previous posts AGAIN - I emphatically support expanded access to health care. My issue here is procedural and Constitutional.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that there is a legitimate question as to the authority of the Administration to take this path of action, and a legitimate question as to the authority of JCAR to block it. Common sense and decency (both increasingly dwindling commodities in our state capitol) would dictate that a binding legal determination be had BEFORE any attempts to enroll any new FamilyCare participants.

Failure to do so creates a situation in which patients may seek medical care believing that they have coverage only to later learn that they were mistaken (misled?). Health care providers are similarly jeopardized since they have no way of knowing whether a FamilyCare patient is a legitimate one, or one whose status is uncertain. Ironically, this could well lead to providers refusing to treat qualifying patients due to eligibility questions.

In light of this, for the Administration to proceed without clear authority in this critical arena is a reckless and irresponsible course of action.

If the Administration would put as much effort into building support within the Legislature as it has in trying to find ways to subvert the process, these issues would likely not exist, and other crucial matters such as mass transit funding and a capital bill may have been resolved months ago.

What next? I can't say for sure. But I would surmise that there exist at least two questions that are ripe for review. First, does JCAR have the authority to suspend the administrative rule at issue? Second, and tangentially related, does the Administration, through HFS, have the authority to undertake this action or does the expansion amount to an unauthorized attempt to expend unappropriated funds.

This is not a bright day for state government, nor for the people that we represent.

UPDATE - Aaron Chambers also has a good article on the subject.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You Gotta Keep 'em Separated

There were two big stories on Tuesday, but one common theme.

The day started with JCAR voting to suspend the Adminstration's efforts to establish an emergency rule that would allow 147,000 parents and other caretakers to buy discounted health insurance through a massive expansion of the state's FamilyCare program.

As a member of JCAR, I can tell you that despite efforts by some to paint it otherwise, our 9-2 vote was in no way a referendum on the issue of making access to health care available to more Illinoisans. Far from it.

Rather, the issue before us was whether HFS had the authority, via emergency rule (which has an immediate effective date) to make a significant policy shift on behalf of the State of Illinois. Members of both parties, and both chambers, decided that it did not.

The other major development was a Circuit Court Judge tossing out caps on medical malpractice damage awards. In her 10-page opinion, Judge Larsen ruled that the law violates the Illinois Constitution’s “separation of powers” clause — essentially finding that lawmakers interfered with the right of juries to determine fair damages.

And that is where we find the common thread.

Today marked the latest in a series of attempts by the Administration to do by rule what it has been unable to do via the legislative process. By exceeding its authority, the actions of the Administration jeopardize the very integrity of that process. As I have previously stated, JCAR was not created to be a shadow legislature, and it should not be used by the Administration to make de facto legislative policy determinations for the people of Illinois that it is unable to do via the proper and constitutional channels.

Similarly, today's court ruling, while narrow, focused on this same critical concept. During the debate on this issue, I maintained that the bill "isn't right, isn't fair and isn't legal". I have no desire to again debate the cause of malpractice insurance premium increases, and I will acknowledge that reasonable minds may come to different conclusions on the issue.

But I will say that the premise that it is not within the purview of the Legislature to artificially curtail the rights and responsibilities of the jury process received a ringing endorsement today. It wasn't legal.

And because the issue has been narrowly, and properly, decided on tight legal grounds, I would anticipate that the Supreme Court, notwithstanding last year's elections, will do the right thing and uphold today's ruling.

If that does in fact happen, I would hope that the proponents of the cap legislation would realize that a cap bill being passed and then ruled unconstitutional is becoming a near-ritual, and that continuing to pass such bills is not only non-productive, but amounts to little more than offering false hope to those desirous of such legislation.

The moral of today's stories is that like it or not, if they are sincere in trying to accomplish the goals that they claim to be seeking, both the Administration and the proponents of damage caps are going to have to find legal and constitutional means to reach those goals.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Good Time, Great Cause

Engine Company 22 is located in the heart of Lincoln Park, on Armitage, a little east of Halsted. They've got a great group of firefighters over there, always have.

Last week, we had an inaugural lunch to commemorate the new kitchen that they have installed (replacing the last one, which served three shifts, 24/7/365 for the last 36 years). But there's still work to be done to get the firehouse back into the shape that it should be in.

To help continue the restoration, there is going to be a benefit party this Thursday night at Kincade's right down the street.

Good time, great cause. Stop over there. (Click on the flier for a larger image)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It is the Soldier

This is from an e-mail from my father. Happy Veterans' Day to him and to all the other veterans who have sacrificed for our Country.

Update - I decided to do a little searching to find the source of the following in order to give the author the credit he deserves. His name is at the end. (It also turns out that my originally posted version was slightly incorrect, such is the nature of the internet.)

It is the SOLDIER, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the SOLDIER, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the SOLDIER, not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the SOLDIER, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the SOLDIER, not the politician,
who has given us the right to vote.

It is the SOLDIER,
who salutes the flag,

It is the
who serves under the flag,

and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC

Saturday, November 10, 2007


It's not only that I'm happy that the Illini beat the number one team in the country, but I LOVE that that number one team was Ohio State.

(Takes a little of the sting out of Michigan losing, and looking very bad in the process, to Wisconsin.)

Although I can't remember the last time that both Michigan and Ohio State lost the Saturday before they were set to play each other.

UPDATE - Now I know why I can't remember it, I've since found out that it was November 14, 1959.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Be Afraid of a Con Con

Last week's Tribune editorial about the need to add a recall provision to our state constitution has helped to turn up the discussion about whether or not the time is right for a Constitutional Convention.

While I've written about the issue before on the blog, below is a letter I wrote to the Tribune in response to their editorial.

Dear Editor:

When the same problems our state faced a generation ago remain unsolved, it is apparent that something in state government is not working right. Sunday’s opinion piece ‘Removing a Governor’, calling for an amendment to our State Constitution to create a recall provision serves as a clarion call for Illinoisans to seize their upcoming opportunity to consider this issue and others of even greater importance.

On the November 2008 ballot, voters will have the chance to exercise one of the most fundamental cornerstones of our democracy by voting for a Constitutional Convention. A “Con-Con” would provide the people of Illinois the opportunity to review how our state works and why, at times, it doesn’t. The Convention allows for elected delegates from each legislative district to assemble for the purpose of proposing amendments to the current State Constitution. The last such convention was held in 1970, and given that frustration with State government is exponentially higher today than it was almost forty years ago, the time seems right to send the delegates back in. For a state whose health is overdue for a check-up, a Con-Con may be just the right medicine.

Earlier this year, I filed House Resolution 25, to urge public awareness and support for a Con-Con. At its forefront, HR25 cites the need for delegates to examine the possibility of doing some things that the Legislature has been unwilling or unable to do itself. Namely, find solutions to some of the State’s most vital issues: how to equitably fund our schools; the need for an honest and open government; and a fairer approach to how we assess property in our state.

Support for the resolution is far from partisan or regional. With a roll call of 48-47, votes cast on each side of HR25 represented legislators from both sides of the aisle and from all parts of the State. This is not surprising given that the state’s most pressing needs know no geographic or partisan boundaries.

Critics from both the left and the right say that holding such a convention will open a ‘Pandora’s Box.’ In fact, there is no doubt that various front groups will be created and funded by the very special interests that want to preserve the status quo which has led us to our present morass. The purpose of these groups will be to coax voters into accepting our current dysfunctional government by convincing them that they should fear the unknown outcomes of a Con-Con. I submit that the majority of Illinoisans doubt that things could get much worse.

It is, however, important to realize that a Con-Con does not equate to a rewriting of the constitution of our State. To the contrary, the convention would be borne out of the document itself, which by its very content states that there shall be at least one opportunity every twenty years for the voters of Illinois to choose to review our State’s blueprint.

In fact, it is entirely possible that no substantive changes would be made at all as the result of a Con-Con. Another fact that should allay public concerns is that any recommendations adopted at such a Convention must then be submitted back to the voters for approval. It is truly democracy at its most essential. We have no way of knowing what the process will bring, but fear of the unknown is no reason to shy away from debate. Doing so simply signifies an acceptance of the current system.

A Con-Con could bring the kind of government Illinoisans deserve and should demand. Ideals could reign over agendas, and meaningful discussions could replace name-calling and political posturing. Having debates framed by policy rather than politics would refreshingly fill the capitol dome with fresh air, rather than hot air.

This may very well be an opportunity for citizens to cast one of the most significant votes in over three decades. I encourage everyone, regardless of their views or political stance, to set aside fear, cynicism, and apathy, and support the call for a Constitutional Convention.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Time the Avenger

Tomorrow, we're going back to Central Standard Time. But while you're setting back clocks and checking on smoke detectors, here's something you don't normally think about.
Come 2 a.m. local time Sunday, standard time returns. That means setting clocks back and an extra hour of sleep.

It also means that pedestrians walking around dusk are nearly three times more likely to be struck and killed by cars than before the time change, the researchers calculate.

The risk for pedestrian deaths at 6 p.m. is by far the highest in November than any other month, the scientists said. The danger declines each month through May.

Fischbeck and Gerard conducted a preliminary study of seven years of federal traffic fatalities and calculated risk per mile walked for pedestrians. They found that per-mile risk jumps 186 percent from October to November, but then drops 21 percent in December.

They said the drop-off by December indicates the risk is caused by the trouble both drivers and pedestrians have adjusting when darkness suddenly comes an hour earlier.

So in addition to it being dark when you wake up and dark when you leave work, you can now add having to worry about getting hit by a car to the list of things not to like about Daylight Savings Time.