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Cunningham, local officials ask Congress to hold CSX accountable

cunningham csxCHICAGO—Senator Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and other local officials recently sent a letter to the Illinois Congressional delegation asking Congress to hold CSX accountable for problems in Mount Greenwood and Evergreen Park.

“Too many residents in our communities are being negatively affected by blocked grade crossing, pedestrian safety problems and idling trains which poses an environmental hazard to our communities,” said Cunningham.

CSX has promised to move a scheduled train off the Elsdon line, which runs just east of Kedzie Avenue, but Cunningham is concerned that this is just a continuation of the long back and forth that has occurred with CSX.

“This is not the first time we have had CSX make a promise. Repeatedly, we receive assurances that the problems will diminish and we are continually facing the same issues. Moving one or two trains isn’t going to fix the problem,” said Senator Cunningham.

The letter signatories who joined Senator Cunningham were State Representatives Fran Hurley and Kelly Burke, Chicago 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea, and Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton. The letter accuses CSX of failing to comply with at least 14 “mitigation measures” imposed on the railroad by federal regulators when the CSX acquisition of the Elsdon line was completed in 2013. Cunningham and the other local elected officials are urging the federal government to sanction CSX with fines or more strenuous regulations.

Cunningham: Reform needed in higher education to help reduce tuition costs

cunningham bkgrd chksCHICAGO – In an effort to reduce administrative costs and help hold the line on college tuition growth, State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-18) has proposed a series of reforms in how higher education executives in Illinois are compensated. These reforms were sparked by a report revealing inappropriate practices, including the recent scandals at the College of DuPage.

“Institutions of higher learning in our state have been plagued by recent controversies involving mismanagement or misconduct by college presidents, which cost taxpayers and tuition-payers millions of dollars in legal fees and severance payouts," Cunningham said. "We need to reform our laws to ensure more transparency and accountability in the administration of our public colleges and universities."

Legislation proposed by the senator would create more transparency in the hiring and contracting process for executives by requiring the terms of contracts to be publicly disclosed before being approved. Legislation also would make it so that perks that are often given to university presidents, such as car and housing allowances, could not count as pensionable income.

“Illinois has several excellent institutions of higher learning," Cunningham said. "It's disappointing that we need to focus on these negative issues. But it is necessary that we learn from past transgressions and reform our laws to ensure that Illinois colleges and universities are above board in all of their financial practices.”

Cunningham’s reform package, Senate Bills 2155-2159 are currently in the State Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Executive Compensation, which is chaired by Senator Cunningham.

Cunningham legislation to protect DCFS wards signed into law

cunningham dcfs wardsSPRINGFIELD - Wards of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services who run away or go missing from the system will now have additional protections to help find them and keep them out of the hands of predators. Two pieces of legislation, sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham, were signed into law to help create a system to locate missing wards that are reported as well as enhancing penalties for criminals who exploit those missing wards.

“The protection of our children, regardless of circumstance, is a priority. With the passage and signing of these important pieces of legislation, our most vulnerable children will have better protection and, hopefully, a better life,” said Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat.

Senate Bill 1775, also known as the Safeguard our Children Act, spells out what is required from DCFS once a youth in their custody is reported missing. The legislation states that DCFS must report the missing youth to local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Illinois State Police must also develop a network to help with locating missing DCFS wards.

From 2011 to 2013, residential DCFS facilities reported 29,425 incidents of missing wards, averaging 27 runaway reports per day. Many residential facilities do not report the runaways to local law enforcement.

“There have been numerous cases of DCFS wards going missing, where, unfortunately, law enforcement was not made aware of the missing child,” Cunningham said. “This new law will help us to find runaway wards as quickly as possible, helping protect them from possible exploitation.”

Also signed into law was Senate Bill 201, which allows sentencing courts to consider a defendant’s knowledge of a prostitution victim’s DCFS status when sentencing. Many wards of the state are extremely susceptible and are in need of extra judicial protections. The legislation specifically states that judges may consider the fact that a criminal knew their victim to be a ward of DCFS and consider that knowledge as an aggravating factor when imposing sentences.

"A series of recent articles reported that human traffickers often specifically target and recruit wards of the state who reside in group homes. Predators see them as especially vulnerable and susceptible to being lured into a life of prostitution," Cunningham said. "The new law would enable judges to enhance the sentences imposed on pimps and traffickers in those cases."

Cunningham has worked closely with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart over the years to help craft good public policy in the criminal justice and corrections field. These two new laws are a direct result of that good working relationship.

“I’m proud to have worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on this. We will continue to work together to protect our most vulnerable children and make their protection a priority,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham hearing digs into higher ed exec pay abuse

hied-exec-hrng-mrCHICAGO – The Illinois Senate Higher Education Subcommittee on Executive Compensation held a meeting Tuesday at the Michael Bilandic Building in Chicago to review the committee’s report on excessive compensation practices by public colleges and universities in Illinois. State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) is the Chairman of the committee.

The committee additionally held testimony, including that from Kathy Hamilton, who works on the board of directors for the College of DuPage. Hamilton described a number of efforts already being taken by the college to prevent further abuses.

“It is disappointing that we even need such a committee, but with recent instances such as what happened at the College of DuPage, we as elected officials need to examine this compensation structure and work toward a solution that taxpayers can be happy with,” Cunningham said.

The initial draft report was issued by Senator Cunningham, who chairs the Illinois State Senate’s Higher Education Sub-committee on Executive Compensation. According to the report, presidents at public universities in Illinois often receive cash bonuses, country club memberships, and housing and vehicle allowances, despite enjoying a median salary of nearly $300,000 a year.

“[College of DuPage] may have been the worst offender, but they weren’t alone in their actions,” Cunningham continued. “We want to ensure that while we work cooperatively with these bodies to clean up their financial practices, we don’t punish everybody due to a few bad apples.”

Citing that Illinois’ schools are far from unique, the hearing went on to discuss subject matter for a number of proposals introduced in the General Assembly that are aimed at closing some of these oft-abused loopholes.

House Bill 3593, co-sponsored in the Senate by Cunningham, was a direct response to the College of DuPage scandal. It passed both chambers earlier this month and is currently waiting to be sent to the governor.

Senator Bill Cunningham


18th Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Criminal Law; Labor; Committee of the Whole; Higher Education (Vice-Chairperson); Appropriations II; Transportation.

Biography: Served in the House from 2011-13; full-time state legislator and lifelong resident of the southwest Chicago area; born July 21, 1967; graduate of Saint Barnabas Grammar School (1981), Mount Carmel High School (1985) and the University of Illinois Chicago (1990); former advisor to Cook CountySheriff Mike Sheahan and former chief of staff to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; youth soccer coach; parent representative on the Sutherland Local School Council; lives in Beverly with wife, Juliana, and two daughters, Madeline and Olivia.