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Constitutional Amendment on Victims’ Rights Could Be on November Ballot

Here is a wrap-up of some of the latest political news.

A push to change the state Constitution and give victims of violent crimes and their families new legal standing overwhelmingly passed the Illinois Senate April 25 and could wind up going before voters this fall, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

The measure known as Marsy’s Law, named after a California murder victim, advanced out of the Senate by a 55-1 vote and now moves to the House, which approved an earlier version of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Under the plan, according to the Sun-Times, victims of violent crimes and the families of murder victims or minors would be guaranteed the right to be informed about court proceedings, to make victim-impact statements during sentencing, to get “timely” notification when prosecutors are seeking a plea deal and to have their safety considered at bail hearings, among other things.

The state Constitution now contains victim-rights language, but there is no mechanism by which victims or their families can enforce those rights before, during or after trials by seeking relief from the courts.

“What this constitutional amendment does is ensure that those who have been victims of molestation, of rape, whose family members have been murdered, will now be confident their rights can, in fact, be enforced, that their right to have a voice and to be informed of what’s happening in trial proceedings are enforceable,” said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the legislation’s chief Senate sponsor.

The plan, backed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan and an assortment of other victims-rights advocates, would make Illinois the fourth state with such language in its Constitution.

The Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois State’s Attorneys Association and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez opposed it.

Kirk Meets Almost Daily With Staff

reported that is meeting almost every day with his staff to discuss business and continues to be fully engaged in therapy, according an April 24 statement from Richard L. Harvey, the physician treating him at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

“He is mentally sharp and meets with his staff nearly every day to discuss policy issues and global current events,” Harvey said in the statement. “Kirk remains fully engaged in all aspects of his rehabilitation program.”

Kirk has walked more than 10 miles since he arrived at the Rehabilitation Institute and continues to put strenuous effort into his therapy. He is doing exercises to increase his strength and mobility. “He is climbing stairs and getting in and out of vehicles,” Harvey said. “We are quite pleased with his ongoing recovery."

According to Harvey, Kirk will soon begin participating in a research trial to help improve his gait through an intense regimen of continuous walking over flat surfaces, on stairs and on a treadmill every day.

In the last few weeks questions have been raised about the progress of Kirk’s recovery and the public’s right to know, according to a report on ABC news. The story indicated no information was being offered by his doctors or his office.

Kirk continues to recover at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago from a stroke suffered Jan. 21.

Madigan: GOP Will Block Cigarette Tax

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan supports a cigarette tax increase to shore up Medicaid but expects Republicans will block the idea, the Quad-City Times reported April 25.

The Chicago Democrat also called Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to cut pension costs "a good start" that will face strong opposition.

Quinn wants to raise cigarette taxes by $1 a pack—up from 98 cents—to bring in about $670 million. It would be coupled with cuts in Medicaid services and rates to close a $2.7 billion shortfall in the health care program for the poor.

"I would support an increase in the cigarette tax, especially for the Medicaid program," Madigan said. "The Republican position to date is against, so I don't think it will pass."

He apparently is correct. Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno suggested that if Democrats want a cigarette tax increase to stave off some health care cuts, Democrats should provide the votes, according to an April 24 Chicago Tribune news report.

 “The problem is that it is a revenue solution to a spending problem. We’re looking for money rather than looking at the spending side, and it’s that default position that has gotten us exactly into the mess we’re in,” the Tribune quoted Radogno telling a City Club of Chicago audience.

Noting that Democrats, who control the General Assembly, last year passed a state income tax increase without any Republican support, Radogno said, “They can pass the cigarette tax increase on their own if that’s what they want to do.”

Republicans say there are more ways to cut spending before increasing a tax. They haven't detailed those reductions but maintain that there's time for a bipartisan group to find them before the legislative session adjourns at the end of May, according to the Quad-City Times.

Quinn's proposed cuts include ending seniors' prescription drug coverage, tightening income guidelines to disqualify 26,000 current recipients and ending services such as dental care, which the federal government gives states the option to cover.

Quinn suggests raising the retirement age, requiring greater contributions from employees' paychecks and relieving the state's obligation to pay the employer contributions for teachers by shifting it to local school boards, among other things.

It May Be OK to Leave the Scene of an Accident in Some Cases

A proposal that would allow Illinois drivers to leave the scene of a minor wreck to go to a safer location has cleared a House committee, Illinois Statehouse News reports. The Senate passed the bill in March.

Senate Bill 3409 lets drivers move off the highway to an exit ramp, gas station or other safe place.

Currently, anyone involved in a wreck, no matter how minor, must remain at the site of the crash or return to it immediately if unable to stop.

Bill sponsor state Rep. Sidney Mathias, R-Buffalo Grove, said getting cars out of the way after wrecks will help prevent traffic jams and ensure the safety of motorists.

“A small fender bender can tie up traffic on a road, and people are reluctant to move their cars, because they know there’s a law if you leave the scene,” he told Illinois Statehouse News.

The legislation only applies to crashes resulting in property damage. Drivers must remain at the scene of the crash if someone is hurt.

New DuPage GOP Chair 'Hopes' Obama Won't Carry County in 2012

The new head of the Republican Party in DuPage County told WBEZ she hopes 2012 is nothing like the last presidential election.

Darlene Ruscitti is the regional superintendent of schools for DuPage County and last week was unanimously elected chair of the county GOP. The first woman to hold the post, she said the distinction will be good for perception.

"It will serve the party well and the candidates well for me to be out there kind of pounding the pavement and talking about the party, talking about our candidates," Ruscetti said.

In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama carried the traditionally Republican DuPage by 45,072 votes.

"I absolutely hope [Mr. Obama doesn't win the county again]," Ruscetti said, laughing. "And I am absolutely committed ... at least in my county, to make sure that that does not happen."

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