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After year of accomplishment, Springfield needs to revisit pensions in 2014

The Illinois General Assembly | Seth Perlman~AP file

The Illinois General Assembly | Seth Perlman~AP file

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:32PM

Big things actually got done in Illinois 2013, including the legalization of gay marriage, partial reform of the state’s public pension systems and a restructuring of the Chicago Public Schools.

Let’s keep the train moving.

Here’s some of what we’ll be pushing for in 2014:

† Greater public pension reform. The deal cut in Springfield in December only begins to pull local government from a sea of red ink. Gov. Pat Quinn must craft an austere budget for the coming fiscal year that doesn’t count on one penny of the pension deal’s estimated savings ­— not until the courts rule on the bill. And now the Legislature must cut pension costs for the Chicago Public Schools and city police and firefighters.

† Getting business-friendly. Lawmakers have a massive job ahead just trying to make the state more competitive for big and small businesses, beginning with broadening the tax base that includes more of the growing service sector. Until that happens, don’t even think about raising taxes.

† Making politics more competitive. Too many legislators are elected from gerrymandered districts in which the other side doesn’t stand a chance. What to do? Support a proposed constitutional amendment that puts the drawing of district lines in the hands of a neutral commission. A petition drive to get the proposal on the November ballot needs 298,000 signatures by May 4. Sign it. Work for it.

† A lowered jail population. The average number of days inmates spend in Cook County Jail awaiting trial has ballooned. As of Tuesday, 43 inmates have been waiting more than five years. This makes a mockery of justice and costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year. We believe Chief Judge Timothy Evans could do much more to push judges to work harder and longer and resolve cases faster.

† Recorded police interrogations. In 2013, Illinois wisely decided to expand the range of serious crimes for which police interrogations of suspects must be electronically recorded. But some felonies still aren’t covered. In 2014, the Legislature should expand the requirement to include all felonies. And the U.S. Department of Justice should get out of the horse-and-buggy days, follow Illinois’ lead and begin requiring the recording of felony interrogations as well.

† Fairer police lineups. Mistaken witness identifications are one of the most significant causes of wrongful convictions. Illinois should require lineup procedures that keep police from consciously or unconsciously steering witnesses to particular suspects. The law should require that the person administering the identification procedure not know who the suspect is or, in the case of photo lineups, not be able to see which photo the witness is looking at.

† Getting kids to go to school. Chicago truancy rates are astounding. CPS is working on the problem, but we see a woeful shortage of the kinds of enlightened services that keep kids coming to school — social workers, counselors, truancy officers and behavior management programs.

† Rules of the road for drones. Commercial drones — privately operated, unmanned aerial vehicles that work like an eye in the sky — are coming. Six states were named Monday by federal officials to develop test sites for drones. Within five years, the FAA predicts, some 7,500 will be zipping through the air. They will do lots of stuff, including monitoring wildfires, looking for missing people and photographing major events. But we need a state law saying what they can’t do, such as corporate espionage and stalking celebrities.

† A separate forest preserve board. In Cook County, the forest preserves are an afterthought for the County Board, which has bigger concerns. So stuff falls apart — remember those cool toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff? — and must be torn down. For the same reason, Cook County has been slow to expand the size of the preserves. An independent and unpaid board is the solution. DuPage County went that route 11 years ago — and it’s worked.

† Getting deep with Lake Michigan. Although they’ve recovered a bit, the lake’s water levels hit a record low in 2013, raising concerns that the dirty Chicago River could reverse itself once again — back toward the lake. Shallow lake waters also become home to pathogens and invasive species, endangering commercial shipping and recreational uses of the lake. It’s unclear what’s to blame and what, if anything, can be done. A U.S.-Canada commission, with input from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, should be appointed.

† Higher learning standards. A set of ambitious learning standards called the “Common Core” has been adopted in 45 states, including Illinois. Critics would love to dump them. The critics are wrong. The Common Core is about teaching kids to think rather than regurgitate rote answers.

† Getting honest with Abe’s hat. The Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield claims it owns one of Abraham Lincoln’s famous stovepipe hats, for which it paid $6.5 million, but it doesn’t have enough proof to say that. The museum really should quit fudging the facts, and we’ll keep poking fun at them until they do.

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