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Stick to facts in pension debate

Illinois Speaker House Michael Madigan D-Chicago speaks news reporters after testifying during House Committee hearing regarding state pensilegislatiIllinois State Capitol

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks to news reporters after testifying during a House Committee hearing regarding state pension legislation at the Illinois State Capitol May 1. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: June 13, 2013 6:46PM

If we are to have an honest dialogue about SB 2404, sponsored by Sen. John Cullerton and supported by the unions representing a half-million workers and retirees affected by the bill, we need to work with facts, not misrepresentations.

According to your May 10 editorial, this pension reform bill would continue the “pass-the-buck behavior that got us into trouble in the first place.” In truth, the “behavior” that “got us into trouble” was politicians’ failure to make required contributions year after year, even as employees faithfully made theirs. SB 2404 contains the most iron-clad guarantee anyone has been able to devise to compel politicians to pay.

The Sun-Times claim that the bill would “backload payments over a 30-year schedule” is also misleading. Any attempt to deal with the mountain of pension debt must be spread over the coming decades or Illinois will not be able to meet other obligations to creditors or citizens. You call the savings from SB 2404 “relatively little.” That’s a strange way to describe $46 billion — especially since every penny comes from teachers, nurses, correctional officers and other public employees and retirees who have already paid their share.

This is not a competition to save the most and in turn hurt working families. SB 2404 is a more moral approach to fixing Illinois’ fiscal problems. Pensions are a promise made to employees and given protection by our state’s constitution. Yet for decades the political leadership borrowed from public employees’ pension funds to pay for other programs — education, public safety, environmental protection and more. Why should public employees and retirees now be expected to bear the burden of paying back the money? The Sun-Times isn’t calling on bondholders or state vendors to forgo the state’s obligations to them. Why would you try to compel teachers, nurses and state police to do something you wouldn’t consider asking others to do?

Our unions came only reluctantly to support SB 2404. We have done so because the alternative proposals before the General Assembly would make much harsher cuts to benefits that employees have already earned and paid for. SB 2404 is the best opportunity before us to bring fiscal stability to the state’s pension funds, and the state budget in a fair and responsible manner.

Michael T. Carrigan,

president, Illinois AFL-CIO on behalf of the We Are One Illinois coalition

Don’t let psychologists prescribe drugs

How would you feel if you saw a neighbor without a driver’s license climbing into the cab of an 18-wheeler and taking off for the highway? That’s the same feeling doctors have about a bill pending in the Illinois House of Representatives that would allow non-medically trained psychologists to prescribe powerful psychotropic drugs.

Senate Bill 2187 recently cleared the Illinois Senate and is just a House vote away from the governor’s desk. Incredibly, it would authorize psychologists to prescribe uniquely complex drugs. Psychologists do not receive biomedical education and do not have the clinical training physician assistants and nurse practitioners receive.

Forty-eight states prohibit psychologists from prescribing psychotropic drugs, which are used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, clinical depression and the like. If not prescribed and closely monitored properly by a medically trained professional, these medications can have potentially disabling and deadly side effects.

Psychologists have an important role to play in the health-care team; however. They do not have the biomedical education necessary to prescribe. This legislation is very risky business.

Illinois doctors urge our state House of Representatives to vote “No” on S.B. 2187.

Eldon A. Trame, M.D.

president, Illinois State Medical Society

Make voice heard on background checks

I find it amazing that Steve Huntley can state that gun violence went down to 11,101 in 2011 from 18,253 in 1993 without mentioning the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which banned weapons such as those used by the Aurora, Wisconsin and Newtown murderers. The act, though imperfect, certainly had a lot to do with the drop Huntley notes from two studies. The act was allowed to die in 2004. It was strengthened recently and reintroduced along with background check legislation, but both were voted down by a Congress that knows that the NRA will get out its voters in the primaries in the next election.

Huntley interprets the studies’ findings as “a setback to the gun control crusade.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that we have 11,101 acts of gun violence in 2011 is still remarkably high. 2012 was likely even higher, and the totals will continue to go up if no action is taken.

Focusing on the mentally ill is not enough. The majority of the violent gun crimes in this country are not committed by mentally ill people. There are far more family or acquaintance disputes, drunken or drug-induced violent acts then those perpetrated by mentally ill people.

Background checks for criminal activity or suspicious activity such as involvement in a known subversive group should be universal across state lines before someone is allowed to purchase a firearm. That is a reasonable and protective action that society can take to minimize the bad guys from getting access to something so dangerous to the public in the wrong hands. Straw purchasers, such as the ones that have been identified in Indiana buying guns for the streets of Chicago, should also certainly be legislated against.

I have family members who own and use guns responsibly. My husband used guns in the military. The average citizen who wants to own a gun has the right to do so under the Constitution. But just as there are limits on free speech when that speech impacts the safety of the public, there is a need to regulate weapons that have no other purpose than to kill or maim whatever they are discharged against.

Those of us who believe this, gun owners or not, need to show in the primary elections that we believe in background checks and bans on military-style weapons that can take out 26 innocent people in less than 5 minutes. We must vote on this issue because the NRA has frightened politicians into acting against the best interests of our nation. And the NRA gets out its vote in primaries, because they understand that’s where the selection process really takes place.

So if you care about this issue, get out and vote.

Nancy E. Degnan, Des Plaines

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