Chicago Authorities Weigh in on Tobacco, Immigration, Labor, Homelessness

In a flurry of activity (or lack thereof) this week, the city has arrived at some important decisions regarding several issues.

While more than a dozen aldermen voted against it, a majority voted to approve Mayor Emanuel's relaxed rules on flavored tobacco sales.  The move served to repeal part of a 2013 ordinance, and business owners can now sell menthol cigarettes, candy-flavored tobacco, and similar products within 500 feet of grade schools.  Removing restrictions on sales of these products is intended to protect small businesses.

Opponents of the measure raise concerns that kids will have increased access to tobacco. And why should they have increased access to tobacco?  Just because it's sold near a school doesn't mean it should be easier for them to get their hands on it.  Legislation was passed last summer to raise the age at which tobacco could be purchased from 18 to 21.  Neither of those ages include grade-school populations.

Even if tobacco products are sold right next door to a school, it shouldn't be a simple matter for kids to purchase them.  Business shouldn't be selling to anyone underage.  If kids are getting tobacco products, they're either pilfering it from businesses or older family members, or some one is actually giving it to them.  That could happen regardless of a tobacco retailer's proximity to a school.

Second, it's not the government's responsibility to make sure underage kids aren't smoking, or chewing, or dipping.  Parents and other responsible adults in the community need to be educating kids and monitoring their activities.  I don't think the city council's approval of the measure poses any great danger.

For those of you who were eligible and decided not to claim your property tax refund, you still have until the end of the year to do so.  And you might want to claim it if you knew how the $1.3 million in unused funds will be spent.  Unclaimed revenue is being placed in a fund to defend illegal immigrants who may face deportation under Trump's administration.  Brace yourselves.  Only three aldermen voted against the legal defense fund.

It goes without saying that if we can offer a rebate, we must be charging too much in the first place.

Meanwhile,  a 72-bed shelter in Uptown is expected to close this week due to lack of funding.  Clients have been promised placement in other shelters.  However, this understandably raises concerns.  The homeless are especially vulnerable right now because of the Arctic air that is buffeting Chicago.

How is it that we can find the funds to protect illegals, to defend them when they break the law, yet not have resources enough to keep a homeless shelter open in sub-zero temperatures?  This doesn't bode well for the city's priorities.

Rolling right along, the city is going to extend its trial run of the Number 11/Lincoln bus route, which connects to the Brown Line.  Ridership is less than what was anticipated, perhaps because the test run doesn't include morning and evening rush times.  Bridgeport residents are hoping for an extension of the trial run of the 31st street bus.

Yesterday, however, the CTA's President Dorval Carter had to let the board know that the agency's contract with the Second Chance Program expires at the end of the month without the cooperation of transit unions.  Second Chance helps ex-offenders and others who are at high risk for unemployment secure temporary jobs.

Non-violent offenders get some work experience and earn some income, cleaning buses and train cars for $10.50 an hour.  Since 2011, 736 people have been placed in short-term employment; 181 of those were offered full-time work.

The unions claim they don't want to see the program extended, but this is really just a smokescreen for other issues on their agenda, such as disputes about health-insurance contributions. They also contend that the temp workers aren't being paid enough, which, they say, is counterproductive for the unions.

Fortunately, these temporary workers may still find employment elsewhere after December 31 if, no pun intended, they're willing to switch career tracks.

Aldermen yesterday proposed a plan (they're on a roll this week) to allow the police department to hire people whose backgrounds include "minor drug and criminal offenses."

Fortunately, the proposal isn't binding.  The aldermen who support it want to see a rollback in what they say are restrictions that can prevent minorities from being hired for law enforcement positions.  The mayor, with his plans to add more diversity to the police force, is considering the idea.

Wait, let's step back for a second.  The restrictions that are in place are not intended to and do not directly bar minorities from being hired by the police department.  If that were the case, then certainly, we should amend the law.

What they're saying though, is "Let's relax the rules,"  rather than,"  Let's hold people to a high standard."  It seems like a bit of a conflict of interest to have some one with a criminal record become a cop.  Admittedly, some offenses are minor and just one-time incidents that shouldn't exclude people from employment.

However, if you're in a position to enforce the law, then you should consistently abide by it.  Having blemishes on your record should not engender trust on the part of your colleagues or the community.

If the resolution is adopted, I guess the Second Chance program could move to police headquarters.

The answer should never be to lower the standard.  Apparently, this isn't unique to Chicago.  I read in an article several weeks ago that the military is thinking of relaxing some of its requirements to encourage more people to join.  They've toyed with the idea of relaxing physical fitness requirements and allowing applicants to be admitted even if they test positive for marijuana.

Won't that strengthen our country.

Well, I guess that about wraps it up, Chicago.  Looks like some New Year's Resolutions are in order   Unless, of course, you believe that resolutions are meant to be broken.  Hoping that 2017 brings some improved priorities and perspective.

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