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Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are questioning the Rauner administration’s involvement in a Jan. 17 conference call with Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus over the process of selecting new U.S. attorneys and federal judges in Illinois.
In a letter to Shimkus sent Tuesday, the senators called on Shimkus to “honor the decades-long tradition of bipartisanship in the selection of U.S. attorneys, U.S. marshals and federal district court judges in Illinois.”
“Rep. Shimkus has delayed re-establishing this bipartisan process in order to consult with the Trump Administration — a process that is more urgently needed since last Friday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired all sitting U.S. attorneys, including the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Zach Fardon,” the letter said. “By longstanding Senate practice, both U.S. senators in a state must give their consent, on a form called a blue slip, before federal nominees in that state will be considered by the (Senate) Judiciary Committee.”
But the senators also questioned the involvement of Kathy Lydon -- who heads the state’s Washington, D.C., office and is a former chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale -- in earlier talks about the process.
“We also note that you invited a representative of Governor Rauner to participate in our January 17 conversation. Although she is very familiar with this issue because of her previous service in the office of U.S. Congresswoman Judy Biggert, we believe her new position representing Gov. Rauner raises serious issues about her continued participation,” the senators wrote.
“The governor of Illinois has no authority when it comes to choosing federal prosecutors and judges. In fact, recent history suggests we should make every effort to avoid even an appearance of impropriety when it comes to the selection of federal prosecutors. Please clarify your position on this matter,” the senators asked Shimkus.
The recent history the senators cite, perhaps, includes the federal prosecution of former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan.
The Rauner administration declined to comment.
Shimkus spokesman Jordan Haverly said the congressman wants the choices to be “a bipartisan collaborative process.”
Asked about the Rauner administration’s involvement given the recent history of Illinois governors and the U.S. attorney’s office, Haverly said, “Then should Sen. Duckworth be involved in the process, having worked with Rod Blagojevich?”
Duckworth served as Veterans’ Affairs secretary in Blagojevich’s administration, a point Republicans regularly used to attack her during her successful campaign to defeat GOP U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.
Shimkus is going to “listen to elected officials and leaders in the state” and “wants to make the best recommendation he can to the president for someone who will root out corruption and stop the violence in Chicago,” Haverly said.
“Ultimately only one person makes the appointment and that’s the president,” he said. (Rick Pearson)
What's on tap
*Mayor Rahm Emanuel will go to a morning Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony.
*Gov. Bruce Rauner will attend the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association's awards banquet in Chicago.
*The Illinois House and Senate meet.
*Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is scheduled to give a lunchtime talk to the City Club of Chicago.
*State Sen. Andy Manar will hold a Springfield news conference to talk about a new automatic voter registration proposal.
From the notebook
Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration Tuesday scored a victory in its push to limit overtime pay for home health care workers while disability advocates said the changes will harm clients who rely on that care.
The administration's rules would prevent workers who provide home services to people with disabilities from clocking more than 45 hours per week. In addition, people enrolled in the program would have to hire backup providers. The rules cleared a committee via a tie vote.
Illinois Department of Human Services chief of staff Fred Flather said these rules aim to prevent worker burnout and ensure people who need care don't see their services interrupted if their regular providers are unavailable.
“The main point of the program is to keep people in the community, and if you just rely on one person, sooner or later, you put yourself at risk of having to go to an institution if that person becomes unavailable,” Flather said.
The new rules came in response to a change in federal policy that says home workers must be paid time and a half when they work overtime. Flather said these changes will save the state money and create jobs. He also said the administration is focused primarily on “customer security and safety.”
However, Democrats and disability advocates flooded Tuesday's hearing to tell lawmakers the rules are too vague and not legal.
They said the changes will hurt people with disabilities, contending they would force people to work with caregivers they aren’t comfortable with. They also reject assertions that the changes are designed to benefit workers.
“The administration never cared about how tired providers were until they were required to pay them time and a half for their overtime hours,” said Terri Harkin, vice president of the home care division at SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the union that represents home health care workers. Advocates said they will consider how to keep fighting the new rules.
K.L. Cleeton, an Effingham resident who receives care from his parents, said the administration’s rules punish people with severe disabilities who need more assistance.
“The rule says that the more physical assistance you require, the less your life matters, the less your choice matters,” Cleeton said. (Haley BeMiller)
*Groups push back against shoplifting plan: An alliance among retailers, law enforcement and municipalities emerged Tuesday as they spoke out against a proposal that would raise how much a person can shoplift before it’s considered a felony in Illinois.
Legislation before the General Assembly would increase the felony threshold for retail theft from $300 to $2,000. Another bill would hike it to $2,500. The proposals stem from Gov. Rauner’s commission on criminal justice reform, which aims to reduce the state’s prison population.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Sheriffs' Association and Illinois Municipal League contend the policy would hurt retailers and burden local communities that are struggling financially. Patrick Hayes, general counsel at the Illinois Municipal League, said retail losses translate to less sales tax money.
Greg Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, said he understands efforts to keep low-level offenders out of jail, but he said the proposed changes could lead to a spike in shoplifting – something that in turn would cost money in the form of increased law enforcement needs.
“It should be making people responsible for their actions rather than considering what the cost is, the social cost, of putting somebody in jail,” Sullivan said. (Haley BeMiller)
What we're writing
*J.B. Pritzker establishes exploratory committee to consider a run for governor.
*Chicago aldermen shouldn't take free White Sox tickets, ethics official says.
*Feds: CPS consultant made millions through 'corrupt process from beginning to end.'
*Chicago police vow to continue reforms but offers few details.
*ACLU rips Fardon for 'blindsided attack' on curtailing stop-and-frisk by Chicago police.
*Chicago police recruits rarely flunk out, raising concerns about training.
*Chicago set to roll out Airbnb rules after months of delay.
*Near North residents air opposition to proposed 60-story residential, retail tower.
*City change to pay-as-you-go loading zones begins.
What we're reading
*Fire officials: Baby girl born on Lake Shore Drive 'doing well.'
*In credit-strapped medical pot world, Illinois firms may tap real estate for cash.
*'Butter is still a fat and still has lots of calories,' dietitian says in story about the spread being cool again.
Follow the money
*Read Pritzker's filing to set up a campaign committee here.
*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.
*The Trump administration works to salvage support for the Republican health care proposal.
*Eight charged in Navy 'Fat Leonard' scandal.
*Kushners near $400 million deal with Chinese firm.
*Gorsuch's environment record: Neither friend nor foe.
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