State Roundup: Cook County relaxing pot prosecutions

From Illinois News Network

A policy of prosecuting low level pot offenders in Cook County is going up in smoke. In an announcement Monday, the counter culture holiday of 4-20 of all days, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says the methods under current policies “are simply not working” with her office seeing the same individuals revolving in and out of the system.

Her office will seek to keep nonviolent low level repeat drug offenders out of the criminal justice system and steer more individuals to treatment rather than traditional prosecution. Under the new policy Alvarez’s office will no longer prosecute most cases of misdemeanor cannabis possession. Dan Linn, the Executive Director of the Illinois Chapter of NORML, applauds the move but still has concerns.

“We are still kinda setting ourselves up for those racially disparate tickets for the white kids, the white suburbanites, whereas the African American and latinos will probably still be arrested and put into that police databases with the pictures and fingerprints.”

Another concern Linn has is that if there’s a new State’s Attorney they could reverse the policy. Linn says he would still like to see statewide legalization, but Alvarez’s announcement is a start. The announcement also says the Cook County State’s Attorney will divert Class 4 felony pot possession and other controlled substance offenders to alternative programs.

Bill gives local school boards vote on charter schools

Local school boards could make the decision to deny a charter school proposal, regardless of what decision is made by the state’s Charter School Commission. That’s the ultimate goal of a measure that passed the House Monday.

Opponents of the measure say House Bill 397 is a backdoor way to squash the public school option altogether. During a nearly hour-long debate, Representative Ron Sandack said the bill is an example of a solution desperately seeking a problem.

“Charter schools have done an excellent job. And to the [Charter School] Commission, which I think you’re trying to divest of some powers, in the past four years the Commission has only approved two applications of 42 submitted. I’d say that’s pretty judicious.”

But Sponsor Chris Welch says the measure is about local control.

“It empowers our locally elected school boards. If an application for a charter school is brought before them they can approve it or reject it. And if the local school board’s decision is to deny it can be can be taken into court for judicial review.”

Welch’s measure was amended to allow for judicial review of a school board’s decision denying a charter. The bill narrowly passed 60-41 and now heads to the Senate. Current Illinois regulation allows for only a certain number of charter schools that must be approved by the Charter School Commission. The majority of the state’s charters are in the Chicagoland area.

Representatives move to limit specialty plates

The state is closer to putting the brakes on creating more specialty license plates. House Bill 1081 from Representative John D’Amico would grandfather specialty plates currently being issued but would limit all future specialty plates to a unified plate with a specialty sticker. Opponent, and the only “no” vote, Representative Will Davis didn’t like the proposal, in particular the prospect of taking away how some of the specialty plates look.

“Now maybe with some of the other plates, I don’t know, but with like fraternity plates, the idea that it’s a particular color scheme it’s specific and indicative to the fraternity that I’m a part of and it seems that you’re taking some of that away with this type of change.”

But D’Amico says the glut of license plates is confusing for law enforcement and must be addressed.

“Right now we have almost 193 plates on the street. What are we gonna do? Wait until there’s 500, or a thousand? Because it seems we constantly have more and more plate bills coming before us.”

D’Amico says his bill would still allow funding of special causes the specialty plates are meant to fund. The measure passed the House Monday and now heads to the Senate. A previous measure that would increase the threshold of how many specialty plates must be ordered before being produced passed earlier this year.

Bank reporting mandate stalls in House

A measure to mandate state chartered banks TO report the number of minority and women owned businesses seeking loans stalled in the House but could come up for a vote in the future. House Bill 2542 would require banks with a state charter to report the demographics of who is seeking business loans.

But opponents of the proposed regulations say it would go after smaller banks, not the large banks that do most of the business. Democratic Representative Jack Franks voted present because he is on boards for several financial institutions but says the proposal is misguided.

“And it will just increase costs. We won’t get anything more out of it. And it’s just a bill that we don’t need.”

Franks says some of the questions the bill would require community banks to ask are off limits. Sponsor, Democratic Representative Monique Davis, says the bill is necessary to find out why some people get loans and others don’t.

“Banks will continue to make great profit and we don’t object to that. But we just think when you’re shutting out a number of people, a group of people, who cannot reach the American Dream, who cannot do what other people can do because they’re not given equal opportunity.”

As votes were being tallied, falling short of the necessary majority for passage, Representative Davis called for postponed consideration which allows the measure to be brought up for a vote in the future.

Drier, warmer weather progresses crop planting

Drier, warmer weather had farmers out in the fields last week. The latest state crop report from the Department of Agriculture says statewide precipitation was over a half-inch below normal while the temperatures were nearly 7 degrees above normal. That combination made for over four days of suitable fieldwork conditions. The report says corn planting surpassed last year but fell short of the five-year average while oats reached 69 percent complete, which was more than the five-year average. Illinois crop reports are compiled from United States Department of Agriculture data.

University professors top list of best paid

Faculty at the University of Illinois are among the highest paid in the country, according to the American Association of University Professors. The Associated Press reports the annual ranking places Champaign faculty as 17th in the nation among four-year public institutions. Average compensation for the university’s faculty is over $150,000 which is up nearly $4,000 from the previous report. Northwestern University averaged $196,000 for their faculty. With reductions in state aid for higher education proposed for next year, U of I chancellor Phyllis Wise told the Champaign News-Gazette the university will likely slow down a plan to hire 500 new professors in the next 10 years.

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