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State-and-regional
AFSCME: Prison-inmate assaults on officers up 51 percent in Illinois
 
 10.12.17

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois officials are cutting costs by putting violent prisoners in less-secure prisons, a driver behind a 51 percent increase in inmate assaults over two years, a state employee union said Thursday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 asserted that Gov. Bruce Rauner's campaign to reduce the prison population has meant an 18 percent drop in maximum-security prison populations.

At the same time, assaults on corrections officers jumped from 541 in 2015 to a projected 819 this year, AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch, surrounded by correctional officers who had suffered or witness attacks, said at a Springfield news conference.

"Is it because ... prisons with lower security levels have lower staffing levels and cost less to operate and that far too little attention is paid to the human cost of increasing violence against staff?" Lynch asked, noting "the recurring pain, the family turmoil, the physical trauma and even the permanent disability that can occur when staff is subject to violent assaults."

Illinois Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin, meeting later with reporters, rejected AFSCME declarations that management "doesn't care" and dismissed the AFSCME's claims of "budget-driven security re-classification."

He said the department is changing its classification system for inmates to replace a 30-year-old model, acknowledging that "we have a lot of population in the wrong place."

"Staff said, 'We need to know more about the offender,' and we're trying to get them that information. Staff are the best people to deal with the offenders," Baldwin said.

AFSCME counted assaults by calendar year — 541 in 2015 and 819 projected this year, based on year-to-date data. Baldwin said the department counted a 27 percent increase over fiscal years — 566 in the year that ended June 30, 2015, to 761 in the year that ended last June 30.

Seven in 10 assaults are perpetrated by mentally ill inmates, Baldwin said. Key to reducing those, he said, is training approved by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which all department employees have had, in dealing with sometimes uncertain responses and reactions associated with mental illness.

Alanea Lewis, an officer who suffered a concussion in an attack that sent half-a-dozen staff members at the maximum-security lockup in Pontiac to the hospital last year, said the inmates responsible have been charged with battery in criminal court but Corrections department disciplinary infractions were dismissed.

Baldwin denied AFSCME's claim that misbehavior isn't punished, saying the agency's disciplinary system is "robust."

Officer Cody Dornes from East Moline complained that an improper radio communication system delayed the response to a bloody attack on a guard who was alone on a 100-inmate unit recently. Baldwin said the officer's distress call was heard and that he has sought legislative appropriation for new equipment repeatedly but has been stymied by the state's budget problems.


Washington
Trump to halt subsidies to health insurers
 
 10.12.17

WASHINGTON — In a brash move likely to roil insurance markets, President Donald Trump will "immediately" halt payments to insurers under the Obama-era health care law he has been trying to unravel for months.

The Health and Human Services department made the announcement in a statement late Thursday night. "We will discontinue these payments immediately," said acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan and Medicare administrator Seema Verma.

In a separate statement, the White House said the government cannot legally continue to pay the so-called cost-sharing subsidies because they lack a formal authorization by Congress.

However, the administration had been making the payments from month to month, even as Trump threatened to cut them off to force Democrats to negotiate over health care. The subsidies help lower copays and deductibles for people with modest incomes.

Halting the payments would trigger a spike in premiums for next year, unless Trump reverses course or Congress authorizes the money. The next payments are due around Oct. 20.

The top two Democrats in Congress sharply denounced the Trump plan in a joint statement.

"It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America," said House and Senate Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi of California and Chuck Schumer of New York. "Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it."

The president's action is likely to trigger a lawsuit from state attorneys general, who contend the subsidies to insurers are fully authorized by federal law, and say the president's position is reckless.

"We are prepared to sue," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. "We've taken the Trump Administration to court before and won."

Word of Trump's plan came on a day when the president had also signed an executive order directing government agencies to design insurance plans that would offer lower premiums outside the requirements of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Frustrated over setbacks in Congress, Trump is wielding his executive powers to bring the "repeal and replace" debate to a head. He appears to be following through on his vow to punish Democrats and insurers after the failure of GOP health care legislation.

On Twitter, Trump has termed the payments to insurers a "bailout," but it's unclear if the president will get Democrats to negotiate by stopping payment.

Experts have warned that cutting off the money would lead to a double-digit spike in premiums, on top of increases insurers already planned for next year. That would deliver another blow to markets around the country already fragile from insurers exiting and costs rising. Insurers, hospitals, doctors' groups, state officials and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged the administration to keep paying.

Leading GOP lawmakers have also called for continuing the payments to insurers, at least temporarily, so constituents maintain access to health insurance.

The so-called "cost-sharing" subsidies defray copays and deductibles for people with low-to-modest incomes, and can reduce a deductible of $3,500 to a few hundred dollars. Assistance is available to consumers buying individual policies; people with employer coverage are unaffected by the dispute.

Nearly 3 in 5 HealthCare.gov customers qualify for help, an estimated 6 million people or more. The annual cost to the government is currently about $7 billion.

But the subsidies have been under a legal cloud because of a dispute over whether the Obama health care law properly approved them. Adding to the confusion, other parts of the Affordable Care Act clearly direct the government to reimburse the carriers.

For example, the ACA requires insurers to help low-income consumers with their copays and deductibles.

And the law also specifies that the government shall reimburse insurers for the cost-sharing assistance that they provide.

But there's disagreement over whether the law properly provided a congressional "appropriation," similar to an instruction to pay. The Constitution says the government shall not spend money unless Congress appropriates it.

House Republicans trying to thwart the ACA sued the Obama administration in federal court in Washington, arguing that the law lacked specific language appropriating the cost-sharing subsidies.

A district court judge agreed with House Republicans, and the case has been on hold before the U.S. appeals court in Washington. Up to this point the Trump administration continued making the monthly payments, as the Obama administration had done.

While the legal issue seems arcane, the impact on consumers would be real.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums for a standard "silver" plan will increase by about 20 percent without the subsidies. Insurers can recover the cost-sharing money by raising premiums, since those are also subsidized by the ACA, and there's no legal question about their appropriation.

Consumers who receive tax credits under the ACA to pay their premiums would be shielded from those premium increases.

But millions of others buy individual health care policies without any financial assistance from the government and could face prohibitive increases. Taxpayers would end up spending more to subsidize premiums.

Earlier Thursday, Trump had directed government agencies to design a legal framework for groups of employers to band together and offer health insurance plans across state lines, a longstanding goal for the president.


Crime-and-courts
December court dates set for 2 men charged with child porn, sexual abuse in Franklin County
 Isaac Smith  / 
 10.12.17

BENTON — Two men connected to an ongoing child pornography and sexual assault investigation appeared Thursday in Franklin County Court.

Defense attorney Nick Brown appeared for Joseph A. Ryker, who is out on bail, and told Judge Thomas Tedeschi when asked the status of the case that discovery was ongoing. The two also briefly discussed a motion Tedeschi approved on Sept. 14 allowing the state crime lab to test DNA samples. The order indicated that the samples would likely be consumed as a result of the tests.

Ryker

Ryker was arrested in April on multiple counts of child sexual abuse as well as grooming and indecent solicitation of a minor.

According to the information sheet in Ryker’s court file, he is charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child between 13 and 17 years of age. The court alleges that Ryker orally and anally penetrated an unidentified minor between November 2016 and March of this year. Aggravated sexual abuse of a child is a Class 2 Felony.

The state is also charging Ryker with grooming and indecent solicitation of a minor for sending illicit messages to the victim via Facebook, a Class 4 felony.

Listed in the people’s discovery were multiple items retrieved from Ryker’s possession, including bedding, computers and a video identified in the document as child pornography.

Michael Hobbs also appeared in court Thursday for a pretrial conference. Thomas Mansfield represented Hobbs. He told the court that his client would need another 60 days to prepare as there was evidence at the state’s attorney’s office that needed to be reviewed.

Provided by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office 

Hobbs

Hobbs is charged with multiple counts of child pornography. According to the information sheet in Hobbs’ court file, the court alleges that Hobbs “knowingly used a child … under the age of 18 year to appear in a video tape or moving depiction by computer in which (the child) was depicted while engaged in the act of sexual penetration with the defendant.” Both child pornography charges allege that Hobbs orally penetrated the victim. Both are Class X felonies.

He is also charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, as well as grooming. The state alleges that Hobbs used the social media site Grindr — which advertises itself as as social networking site for gay, bisexual, "curious" and "queer" men — to seduce his underage victim. Grooming is a Class 4 felony.

The state alleges that Hobbs’ activity occurred between October 2016 and April of this year.

Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones said Hobbs' and Ryker's cases are connected as they both share a victim in common. Jones said he was not sure if there would be further arrests related to the same case, as the investigation was ongoing.

Ryker is scheduled to appear in court again at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 7, while Hobbs will return at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14.


Education
Voices for Illinois Children releases 2017 Kids Count data, shows achievement gaps
 Marilyn Halstead  / 
 10.12.17

CARTERVILLE — Voices for Illinois Children released the 2017 Illinois Kids Count Data Book on Thursday, finding that the educational success of Illinois’ children varies drastically based on the county in which they live.

The data proves that large gaps in achievement and attainment exist in Illinois and disproportionately impact low-income and minority children in communities that lack funding for quality educational programming.

“The data obviously proves we must reduce systemic inequities, increase support for the students who need it most,” said Bonnie Wheeler, vice chair of Voices for Illinois Children.

This is the 25th year for the Kids Count report. Wheeler added that the report enables everyone to assess the challenges, then hopefully change policy.

“This report uses the best available data to measure educational, social, emotional, economic and physical well-being of children and is intended to provide policy makers and community leaders and education leaders with the material they need to make the changes happen,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was joined by Lorie LeQuatte, regional superintendent of schools for ROE 21, and Amy Simpson, Gumdrops founder and director, at the news conference. 

LeQuatte spoke about the school funding change, one area that shows success. 

“As regional superintendent of schools, it’s my duty and my honor to advocate for the needs of Illinois students. I am optimistic to report that our legislature has passed an evidence based funding formula,” LeQuatte sais. “It’s still not clear exactly how the funding will be determined or when we will be seeing the funds based on the new formula, as it is currently being calculated and agreed upon by everyone involved in Springfield.”

LeQuatte said she does know that local schools will be seeing more money. With more money, schools will see more resources and training and professional development for teachers. LeQuatte believes that will inevitably will increase achievement.

The news conference was held at Gumdrops in Carterville, a not-for-profit organization that provides backpacks of easy-to-prepare food and snacks to at-risk students in local school. The organization started by handing out 12 backpacks to children in Carterville School District. They are now active in 37 schools in 14 school districts across six Southern Illinois counties.

Volunteers work in three shifts, 10 a.m. Tuesday, and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

“We would love to have anyone help who wants to,” Amy Simpson, founder of Gumdrops said.

Wheeler said Kids Count concludes with three items to make systemic gains in education for all students. First, increase investments in quality early childhood education for low and middle income students; examine and address inequities in school resources, teacher and principal distribution, course rigor and discipline practices; and coordinating support services to every child had access to food, after-school programming and mental health and health services.

“I recommend all journalists and anyone who writes grants look at Kids Count,” Wheeler said.

The report is available online at www.voices4kids.org.


Provided by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office 

Hobbs


Ryker