May 8, 2015
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
A step toward ending the pot war
Lives wasted. Billions spent. The decriminalization of marijuana isn't merely right-minded social policy. It's the fiscally conservative thing to do.
Legislation to make possession of up to 15 grams on par with a traffic ticket breezed through the Illinois Senate Criminal Law Committee Wednesday, on its way to the floor. Urban Democrats propelled it through the House this past week. But Republicans, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, and rural Democrats, are doing all they can to stall the march toward reasonable permissiveness.
It's no secret that the state budget is a train wreck, caused by decades of gimmicks and mismanagement. Proponents of decriminalization say even the paired-down version of HB218 passed in the House would save Illinois $30 million. It would free more than 100 prisoners, now costing taxpayers more than $38,000 apiece. And, perhaps most important, it would expunge the records of the thousands of residents who have been victims of outdated, often racist drug policy.
These facts alone leave us perplexed by the opposition from the right flank and conservative Democrats in the House. Reps. Brandon Phelps, John Bradley and Jerry Costello, all Southern Illinois Democrats, dissented. They joined Republican Terri Bryant in opposition.
It's a fact that marijuana bans were first created to hammer minorities. It's a fact that the war on non-violent drug offenses disproportionately clogs the state's court system with inner-city black men, who are nearly eight times more likely to get busted for misdemeanor possessing pot, according to a recent Rockefeller University study. And, with the intent-to-deal provision, it's a fact that too many felons have been created for nothing more than a bag of weed.
Laws should protect the people. Never should they be drafted to feed the prison economy beast on which too many communities have come to depend.
Too many are defending Illinois's failed drug policy, brashly supporting the broken status quo. Decriminalization is the next step toward full-on legalization, they say. There shouldn't be any expansion to the recently approved medical marijuana law, they contend. And Illinois's Republican governor is already refusing to extend the medicinal program pending review, while red tape and bureaucracy are hamstringing the test run.
Opponents are correct on one count. Decriminalization is a step toward a fully legalized, well-regulated marijuana system in the state. Their mistake comes by clinging to the hype of the aging anti-pot propaganda machine. A truly small government doesn't needlessly impinge on people's lives, which is exactly what fear-based pot laws now do.
Opponents are trying to stem a tide that has already consumed them. Rauner should immediately sign HB218 if it clears the Senate.
Decriminalization is indeed a step toward legalization. And, in light of the billions spent and millions of lives ruined by the war on pot, it's a path worth following.
May 8, 2015
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
Bridges deserve attention
A report from the Office of the Auditor General on the state of our state's bridges is a cause for concern.
The office examined inspection records in the past fiscal year for the more than 26,000 working bridges in Illinois. Some of its findings are troubling:
. Almost 60 bridges that were at least 4 years old hadn't received recent or regular inspections.
. A bridge built in 1998 only had one inspection recorded.
. Around 70 bridges were overdue for special inspections. About 15 of those bridges were rated structurally deficient. Some bridges have been repaired or replaced, eliminating the need for special inspections. But those bridges were behind on inspections.
. More than 480 bridges were supposed to receive underwater inspections during the past fiscal year. Of those, 12 were found to have past-due inspections. Seven had not been checked for at least seven years.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said "there are no unsafe or dangerous bridges open to the public in Illinois," but said about 2,200 bridges in Illinois are labeled as structurally deficient.
What does structurally deficient mean? It means one or more key bridge components - deck, superstructure or substructure - is considered to be in poor or worse condition. Parts of the bridges need to be monitored more closely through normal inspections. It's hard to find deficiencies if regular inspections aren't happening.
Clearly, our bridges need attention. Unfortunately, attention means they need money to be fixed. As with everything else in Illinois, there isn't a lot of money available to pay for repairs to Illinois' crumbling bridges and roads.
The Illinois Road Fund is a shrinking pile of money. One of its main sources of revenue is the federal Highway Trust Fund. Illinois received 6.4 percent less in federal funding from 2008-2013. The state's 19 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax hasn't been increased since 1990, and rising construction costs and increased fuel efficiency in cars has eaten into this revenue source. Finally, the state's $31 billion capital construction program is ending.
So now what? A number of ways to increase revenue for roads and bridges have been broached. The obvious is to increase the state's gas tax. Higher tolls at peak times also has been mentioned.
All options to find money to make our roads and bridges safer must be considered, including a temporary increase of the gas tax as long as the increased revenue is targeted for road and bridge repair.
This is a public safety issue, and the longer we let our roads and bridges age without attention, the more danger we put ourselves in.
Many things in this state need money, including roads and bridges. As lawmakers debate a budget and prioritize spending this spring, we ask them to not forget about our safety on the roads.
May 7, 2015
Effingham Daily News
Summit of Hope a worthwhile program
We liked reading reporter Stan Polanski's story about the Illinois Department of Corrections' recent Summit of Hope in Effingham for area people having troubles with life after prison.
It's hard to imagine the obstacles people face after paying their debt to society. The thing is, many are looking for ways to make themselves useful to society after that debt behind bars is fulfilled.
Yet, how many are willing to extend the helping hand that helps make sure ex-prisoners don't fall back into the ways that got them in trouble in the first place?
Just ask Josh Vaughn of Shelbyville, who got out of prison in October and attended the Summit of Hope.
"There are issues with people who want to pass judgments silently," he said. "They will say, 'I want to give you a job,' but then they don't ever call you back. Their whole attitude changes about you."
To be sure, a helping hand is not a hand out. All Vaughn asks is a chance to prove that he's willing to make his life better. By doing so, he makes the community a better place.
The summit, held at Cornerstone Christian Church, offered health screenings, a place to get a driver's license, and the chance to talk to area employers.
We applaud folks like Carl Cacioppo, a representative for a local union who talked with parolees about becoming sheet metal workers. He said that contractors would certainly be interested in workers, even with a prison record.
"More than anything, a contractor just wants someone to show up," Cacioppo said.
If a former prisoner showed up at the summit, we take that as a sign that he or she will show up at the job.
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