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CAPITOL RECAP: Former lawmakers seek back pay for raises they voted against

CAPITOL RECAP: Former lawmakers seek back pay for raises they voted against

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – Two former state senators who sponsored and voted for bills to reduce lawmakers’ pay and forgo annual cost-of-living adjustments are now asking the Illinois Supreme Court to declare those measures unconstitutional and award them their back pay.

Former Sens. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, and James Clayborne, D-Belleville, have been successful so far in their legal efforts, prevailing in 2019 in Cook County Circuit Court before Judge Franklin Valderrama. But Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the defendant in the case, filed a direct appeal to the state’s highest court arguing that Valderrama got the decision wrong.

Clayborne served in the General Assembly for 24 years, from 1995 to 2019. Noland served for 10 years, from 2007 to 2017.

In 2009, when Illinois and most other states were dealing with budget crises brought on by the Great Recession, lawmakers passed a pair of measures that eliminated their automatic cost-of-living adjustments and required them to take one furlough day each month, which had the effect of reducing their base salary.

Noland was a sponsor of the bill freezing cost of living adjustments and a chief cosponsor of the furlough bill.

In each subsequent year through 2019, lawmakers passed substantially similar measures. Both men supported the measures and routinely touted their support for those measures to their constituents.

But when Noland left office in 2017, he filed a lawsuit arguing that the measures were unconstitutional under the legislative pay clause of the Illinois Constitution, which says lawmakers’ salaries may not be changed during the term to which they’ve been elected. Clayborne joined the suit after he announced that he would not seek reelection but before his last term officially ended.

Clayborne is seeking $104,412.93 in lost pay. Noland is seeking $71,507.43.

At the circuit court level, Judge Valderrama declared the legislative actions unconstitutional on their face and thus void from the very beginning, meaning it is as if they were never enacted in the first place. He then issued an order directing Mendoza to pay the claims.

Mendoza, through Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office, appealed on three grounds. While she did not challenge the finding that the legislative acts were unconstitutional, she argued that the former senators had effectively waived their right to any relief by voting in favor of the pay reduction bills.

She also argued that the former lawmakers waited an unreasonable length of time before filing their claims – a concept in law known as “laches” – and that their claims should be barred by the statute of limitations, which is generally five years.

The court took the case under advisement and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.

* * *

HISTORIC SUPREME COURT APPOINTEE: The Illinois Supreme Court announced Tuesday, May 10, that 4th District Appellate Justice Lisa Holder White has been appointed to succeed Justice Rita Garman, making her the first Black woman to serve on the state’s high court.

“Being appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court is the honor of a lifetime. I am humbled by the confidence Justice Rita B. Garman and the entire Court have placed in me,” Holder White said in a news release. “My service to the judiciary for the past 21 years has helped prepare me for this historic moment. I look forward to the privilege of resolving matters my fellow citizens bring
before the Court.”

Garman, 78, a Republican, announced Monday that she would retire from the bench effective July 7 after 21 years on the court and 48 years as a judge in Illinois. She was the first woman to be named judge in a downstate circuit and the first woman to serve on the 4th District Court of Appeals.

Because Garman’s official retirement will come after the primary on June 28, the court had the constitutional authority to appoint her successor.

Holder White, 54, also a Republican, will be sworn in on July 8, which will roughly coincide with the swearing in of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. Holder White’s term will expire Dec. 2, 2024, after a full-time replacement is chosen in the November 2024 elections.

A native of Decatur, Holder White earned a bachelor’s degree from Lewis University in Romeoville in 1990 and a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in Urbana-Champaign in 1993.

She began her career as an assistant state’s attorney in Macon County before going into private practice. She was named an associate judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit in 2001, making her the first Black judge in that circuit, and was appointed to be a circuit judge in 2008 to fill a retirement vacancy.

She was appointed to the 4th District Court of Appeals in 2013 to succeed the late Justice John T. McCullough, who died the previous October, making her the first Black judge in the appellate district. She was elected to that seat in 2014.

* * *

ABORTION ACCESS: Gov. JB Pritzker called on Congress Wednesday, May 11, to “be like Illinois” and codify abortion access into federal law.

Pritzker made those comments at a Fairview Heights abortion clinic, touting steps Illinois has taken to protect abortion services should a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision be finalized as precedent.

The Women’s Health Protection Act that was before Congress Wednesday would have protected an individual’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy and prevent states from acting to remove or alter abortion protections in the future. But the legislation did not pass the Senate, falling in a procedural vote 49-51 after Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin joined Republicans and voted no.

Advocates at a news conference at the Fairview Heights Regional Logistics Center warned that overturning Roe would create further inequities in health care among low-income and minority women that already have difficulties receiving quality care.

Opened in January, the RLC is operated by Planned Parenthood and the Granite City-based Hope Clinic for Women, making abortion care more accessible.

Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, said the past two years have amplified the gender, racial and economic inequities that have long blocked access to quality health care for low-income and minority people. Greenwood said the potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will be a “matter of life and death” for Black and brown women.

Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said that Illinois is on a “new frontier of abortion access” and she is thankful lawmakers have taken the steps to codify women's reproductive rights into law.

In 2019, Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act enshrining in state law the fundamental right to an abortion. Illinois is one of 16 states to codify the right to an abortion and the only Midwestern state to do so.

Pritzker said that since 2015, the number of out-of-state patients seeking an abortion has tripled and he expects it to soar if Roe is overturned.

Rodriguez highlighted that since the opening of the RLC, case managers have helped nearly 1,000 patients from seven states travel to Illinois for an abortion. She said case-managers help out-of-state patients with traveling, lodging and other financial assistance.

* * *

PUBLIC SAFETY: In the run-up to the early-morning April 9 adjournment of the spring legislative session, Illinois lawmakers passed a spate of public safety measures backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in the $46 billion Fiscal Year 2023 operating budget.

The package, pushed by Democrats in an election year in which rising crime has become a major campaign issue, ranged from minor statutory changes to a new legal definition of “organized retail crime,” an expansion of a state roadway camera program and the regulation of “ghost guns.”

The package was backed by a state budget that allocated new money for three Illinois State Police cadet classes, the purchase of body cameras and less lethal equipment, officer recruitment and retention grants, a carjacking response council, witness protection programs, investments in youth-based violence prevention programs, and an off-hours child care program.

While most of the bills were uncontroversial and broadly supported, the floor debate prior to the passage of several of them mirrored the rhetoric of an ongoing campaign season in which every constitutional office and seat in the General Assembly will be up for a vote in November.

Republicans accused Democrats of being soft on crime. Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Chicago Democrat, accused Republicans of a “bad stench of racism” in their ongoing criticisms of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, a controversial criminal justice reform that passed the General Assembly in January 2021.

That measure, widely known as the SAFE-T Act, was an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that included police certification changes, body camera requirements, use-of-force reforms and other provisions including the elimination of cash bail in Illinois beginning in January 2023. It has been amended twice to address law enforcement concerns in several areas.

“The bottom line is that you don't deserve our respect,” Slaughter, who sponsored the SAFE-T Act in the House, told the GOP on the House floor last month. “Your dog and pony show is over, and we're going to make you turn the page to a new chapter. A new and different era.”

The “new era,” Slaughter said, includes youth investments addressing the “root causes of violence,” while Democrats have also touted increased investments in law enforcement investigative tools.

Sen. Robert Martwick, a Chicago Democrat, said the approach includes counteracting years of state police and youth program disinvestment that culminated in a two-year budget impasse between former Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats in the General Assembly.

Republicans took less of an issue with what was contained in the public safety package than what was excluded.

“If you're not going to put violent people behind bars and keep them there, you have accomplished nothing, no matter how much money you spend,” Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said in a phone interview.

Click here for a full look at the public safety measures that passed this session.

* * *

DCFS AUDIT: Nearly a year after the passage of a law that requires DCFS to complete home safety checks before and after a child is returned to their parents and to provide aftercare, a state auditor found that DCFS has yet to implement it.

Despite the audit findings, DCFS officials said they have taken aggressive measures to improve services and care.

“We have trained thousands of workers, expanded resources to support the child welfare system and addressed the many hiring and staffing challenges facing child welfare organizations,” said DCFS spokesman William McCaffery.

He said DCFS had previously identified that its data tracking systems were outdated, limiting the agency’s ability to track new requirements. DCFS has undertaken “a complete replacement of the department’s child welfare information systems.”

The report found DCFS was unable to provide home safety checklists, which are mandated when a child leaves state care to be returned to their home, in 192 of 195 cases studied. 

The checklist contains basic safety information, such as whether the house has smoke detectors and whether poisons and firearms are secured. DCFS must complete a home safety checklist one day prior to a child’s return home and again within five working days after a child’s return and every month thereafter until the case is closed.

The law also mandates that DCFS provide aftercare services to families for at least six months beginning the date the parent regains custody.

Those services can include counseling, case management, physical, behavioral and mental health services, substance abuse services, and linking families to community resources.

The audit found that in the 50 cases surveyed, 29 did not have at least six months of documented aftercare services. About 18 percent had no documentation that services were provided at all.

DCFS stated in a response that they can recommend services, but if a family refuses them, the department’s response depends on the risk involved and the legal status of the case.

Of 50 cases analyzed, the auditor found 18 percent of the children hadn’t had at least one medical check-up, 14 percent had not had a vision checkup, 56 percent had not undergone a hearing exam and 88 percent had not had a dental exam. DCFS lacked sufficient immunizations data for auditors to make a compliance determination.

The audit also found that, as of December 2021, more than half of the 6,037 employment positions listed in the DCFS operations division were considered unfunded. Of the 2,746 positions that were funded, 21 percent, or 573, were vacant.

As of Thursday, there are currently 2,970 DCFS employees.

* * *

DCFS DIRECTOR: In a recent interview with Capitol News Illinois, Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith outlined the agency’s challenges with minors being held beyond medical necessity and why the problem is not new or easy to solve.

He has faced contempt of court citations centering around children in state care that are held in psychiatric or other facilities beyond medical necessity. The children represent a small but challenging population for the child protection agency, Smith said. Of the 20,000 children in the care of DCFS, Smith said about 0.2 percent qualify as being held beyond medical necessity – often referred to as “stuck kids.”

“These children are the outliers of the outliers,” Smith said.

Children who are psychiatrically hospitalized are in secure facilities, behind locked doors for most of the day, going outside for an hour a day. Most do not receive schooling and cannot participate in extra-curricular activities.

The difficulties in placing the children in more appropriate facilities, Smith said, have been compounded by prolonged state disinvestment in DCFS, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the deficiencies at other state agencies.

Gov. JB Pritzker has repeatedly pointed to the fact that 500 placements for high-need children were erased amid a two-year budget impasse under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. That’s partially because DCFS supportive services are run through private sector groups and non-profits, which cut specialized programs, including programs for mentally ill or developmentally delayed children, in response to funding uncertainty.

Smith took over at DCFS in 2019 at a time when the agency was trying to convince the outside groups to consider reinvesting in Illinois and adding programs to support children and their families.

Then, the pandemic hit, increasing the number of children in need of specialized care and further straining the system.   

Mental health hospitalizations increased, but the state was still behind in the supportive services available for children ready to be discharged from hospitals to residential care or family-like settings.

As a result, Smith said, children lingered in these settings rather than time-limited, treatment-intensive intervention programs that would allow them to stabilize then return to their families with needed supports and services.

Even with recent budget increases – Pritzker and lawmakers have increased the DCFS budget by at least $100 million each year since 2019, including by $250 million this year – the effort to build back the lost placements has been slower than the decline. From 2019 to 2021, DCFS added 90 specialized placements. So far this year, DCFS added 37 more. Within the next 60 days, 24 more placements will be available, Smith said.

Smith said the problem goes beyond DCFS, and other agencies are working together to “reimagine child welfare in Illinois.”

Pritzker continues to support Smith, saying his resignation wouldn’t solve anything.

Read Beth Hundsdorfer’s full report here.

* * *

CO-RESPONDERS: Gov. JB Pritzker signed House Bill 4736 into law Tuesday, May 10, in Peoria, one of the four communities that will be part of a co-responder pilot program that aims to send social workers and mental health professionals on law enforcement calls. The others are Waukegan, Springfield and East St. Louis.

The program would send social workers along with law enforcement on certain calls with a primary focus on victim assistance, as well as diversion from the criminal justice system.

Responsibilities would include connecting victims with social services, providing guidance for receiving orders of protection and filing police reports, working with police investigators within confidentiality laws, and providing guidance to families of juveniles who have been arrested.

The budget provides $10 million for the pilot programs this year. It would need a reallocation of funding each year and would expire in 2029.

While Republicans have criticized Democrats for leniency in sentencing and attacked the majority party as soft on crime, Pritzker pointed to investments in two Illinois State Police crime labs and other technologies to aid investigations, such as expressway cameras.

“You've got to give police the tools that they need to go arrest the right people, and make sure that we can put them in prison,” he said.

HB 4736 also renames an existing program as the Violent Crime Witness Protection Act, expanding it to fund emergency relocation expenses, lost wage assistance, security deposits for rent and utilities and more. The budget included $30 million to implement the program.

HB 4736 also created a tip hotline grant program for anonymous tip hotlines that provide cash rewards for tips that lead to an arrest. The budget included $1 million for that purpose.

The measure would also require homicide investigators to be trained in victim-centered, trauma-informed investigation. It also creates a crime reduction task force to study violence prevention measures and report back to the governor and General Assembly.

Pritzker also signed House Bill 3863, which would direct grants to local governments, public higher education institutions and qualified nonprofits for the purpose of hiring and retaining officers. Lawmakers dedicated $10 million to for the grants.

He also signed House Bill 2895 which would allow the Department of Human Services to directly pay funeral expenses of children murdered due to gun violence, rather than having their families wait for reimbursement.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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