If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
The Associated Press
Chicago Tribune. September 10, 2021.
Editorial: What can rebuild Illinoisans’ faith in Springfield? Ethics reform. What won’t? Faux reform.
Democrats in the General Assembly seem to think a swatch of ethics reform is better than none at all.
They pushed through a bill that nips at the edges of Springfield’s decades-old culture of corruption, while leaving out measures that would have cleaned up Illinois politics in a much more comprehensive, enduring way.
A sandblasting was called for. Instead, they opted to feather- dust.
Republicans opposed this lip- service approach to the ethics overhaul that’s desperately needed in the state capital. But Democrats control both cham- bers and the Governor’s Mansion, and had more than enough votes to get SB 539 passed Thursday.
Still, Democrats say they’re shocked, shocked! at GOP oppo- sition. Why, they ask, would Republicans try to derail any kind of ethics reform?
The answer’s simple. When it comes to corruption in Springfield, half measures won’t cut it.
So what’s the bill that Democrats passed? It demands that officials disclose more about their personal financial interests. It also keeps legislators from lobbying their former colleagues after leaving office, and permits the General Assembly’s watchdog, the legislative inspector general, to begin probes of alleged wrong- doing without the go-ahead from a commission made up of the very lawmakers the IG is supposed to police.
But given the scale of corruption tainting Illinois politics, that’s not nearly enough.
We have said before what Illinois needs when it comes to ethics reform.
Give the inspector general power to issue subpoenas and release reports on lawmakers without the ethics commission’s blessing. Broaden the scope of the inspector general’s mission to include alleged wrongdoing outside of lawmakers’ public duties. Add nonpartisan citizen representation to the ethics commission, so that the 4-4 partisan deadlock that stymies investigations can be broken.
Those measures are nowhere to be found in the version of ethics reform Democrats backed. Without them, the leg- islative inspector general lacks the requisite teeth to do the job right. Which is why, when she announced her resignation effective on Dec. 15, current IG Carol Pope said she regards her office as “a paper tiger.”
Backers of SB 539 are trying to convince Illinoisans that the measure doesn’t mean an end to ethics reform. They claim they’ll come back to it sometime down the road.
“Is there more work to be done? For sure. And I think that was something that we reiterated in the debate back in the spring, that this wasn’t going to be the last time we were ever going to look at ethics,” state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, recently told the Tribune. “So I guess it’s just surprising to me that this strategy was employed by the Republicans to stop the bill from becoming law.”
Why not do it right, and do it now?
“I can’t think of anything more cynical, or that would cause the public to lose faith in us more, than passing a bill that is supposed to solve an ethics problem that has plagued the state for years . and then at the end of the day it changes nothing,” state Rep. Mike Marron, a Downstate Republican, said this week.
Marron is correct. Restoring Illinoisans’ faith in government requires both sides to set aside partisan politics and craft an ethics reform package that gen- uinely puts up a bulwark against corruption.
Illinoisans have grown weary of politicians who pledge their souls to strong ethics reform while on the campaign trail, and then conveniently forget what they’ve promised once they’re ensconced in Springfield. Trust in government easily fades when citizens view their elected offi- cials as guided solely by greed and self-interest.
Regaining that trust is far trickier — but it’s not impossi- ble. In Illinois, the solution begins with real, lasting ethics reform — not just the veneer of reform.
Chicago Sun-Times. September 9, 2021.
Editorial: DCFS caseworkers with Spanish-language clients should be able to speak Spanish
For almost 50 years, the agency that cares for the most vulnerable children in Illinois has failed to abide fully by a fed- eral court order to provide Spanish-language services when necessary.
It is a fact of life in a nation of immigrants that government, the courts and social services work best when offered in the native tongue of those immi- grants.
That is why a judge may require a translator in court for a defendant from, say, Belarus. That is why voting instructions are offered in languages other than English, such as Spanish and Cantonese.
And the higher the stakes, the less our nation should allow an inability to speak or understand English to be a barrier to fair play and justice.
But when it comes to the State of Illinois agency that bears the heavy responsibility of working with children and par- ents in family crisis, that bit of common sense — work with the families as much as possible in their own language — too often is not practiced, despite a feder- al court order.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is required to provide services in Spanish to Latino families, as part of a 1977 order called the Burgos consent decree. But as
the nonprofit journalism site ProPublica reports, DCFS has failed for years to abide fully by the decree.
Caseworkers who work with Spanish-language clients may not speak Spanish. Children from Spanish-language families are placed in foster homes where nobody speaks Spanish.
ProPublica first reported in 2019 that DCFS had violated the Burgos decree almost 300 times since 2005, and that number likely was an under- count. Then early last year, Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert conducted his own mini-investigation and found that the problem contin- ues.
For 10 months, lawyers from Golbert’s office counted the number of new cases that involved Spanish-speaking fami- lies. Then the lawyers checked how many of those families’ case files included a critical doc- ument that indicates whether DCFS should be providing the families services in Spanish.
Of the 80 or so cases Golbert’s lawyers identified, as ProPublica recently reported, not one included the so-called language determination form.
Our message today is simple. We know DCFS has a tough job, working to protect and care for the most vulnerable children in the state. And we know state resources are tight. But in a state in which almost 13% of the population speaks Spanish as their primary language, it is obvious that more DCFS case- workers should speak the lan- guage, and the agency should be doing more to hire according- ly.
At the moment, ProPublica reports, DCFS employs just 153 bilingual workers, though under a 2008 state law it should employ 194. Latinos make up about 8% of the 16,000 children in state care. Nobody should feel confident that caseworkers who cannot speak Spanish are fully on top of any case — picking up on signs of neglect or abuse — that involves a family that only speaks Spanish.
If DCFS can’t get there alone — if it continues to fail to meet the benchmarks of the Burgos decree — perhaps it is time for a federal court to appoint an inde- pendent monitor.
“When you have an agency with a record of recalcitrance, despite public attention in con- tinuing to neglect its responsibil- ities, then that is an appropriate time for outside, independent, well-resourced monitoring,” Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told ProPublica. “Otherwise you’re not going to change the culture.”
State law could come to res- cue, if only a bit. This month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that creates a task force to examine the disparate racial impacts of DCFS policy on the families that enter the child welfare system. As part of that effort, the task force is expected to explore language, cultural and heritage issues.
Also, DCFS created a Burgos workgroup last year that meets
twice a month to address com- pliance with the court, and monthly reports on violations are being produced.
The Latino population in Illinois continues to grow. The need for DCFS to provide servic- es in Spanish will grow even more pressing.
Champaign News-Gazeztte. September 9, 2021.
Editorial: Whoever is appoint- ed, rules still the same
The next legislative inspector general will fare little better than the current one.
Whatever their personal feel- ings on the issue, legislative leaders are going through the motions necessary to appoint a new legislative inspector general to replace the outgoing Carol Pope.
Readers may recall that Pope, a former state appellate court justice, resigned in July because she lacks sufficient authority to investigate legisla- tive misconduct. She described her post as “essentially a paper tiger,” because the legislative inspector general “has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations.”
That accurate description, of course, raises the question of why the position is even need- ed.
In its current form, it’s not. And it’s certainly not wanted by legislators, who resent the pos- sibility someone might look over their shoulders. But it’s a prac- tical necessity, because the office provides political cover for legislators. Some may recall the sexual-harassment controversy
that broke out in 2017 in Springfield. That’s when a vari- ety of women came forth to complain about how they were treated while working or lobby- ing at the General Assembly.