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Return to sender? Preckwinkle vetoes plan to give first responders COVID-19 addresses: ‘This didn’t make any sense’
The veto is the first for the Cook County Board president.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times
by Rachel HInton

Just days after rare defiance from the Cook County Board, Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday issued her first veto in ten years as board president, nixing a resolution that would provide the addresses of COVID-19 positive patients to first responders in suburban Cook County.

The Hyde Park Democrat said she never expected the resolution to pass and decided over the weekend to veto it. Its impact on the county’s black and brown communities — as well as warnings from public health officials — drove her decision.

“We have to listen to the people whose job it is to protect us in these times of crisis ... and they have been quite clear from the very beginning that this didn’t make any sense from a public health perspective,” she said.

Her veto sparked applause from the American Civil Liberties Union and disappointment from Democratic commissioner who sponsored the ordinance.

When the measure passed last Thursday over her objections, Preckwinkle said she was “profoundly disappointed.”

The resolution, titled Share Addresses for Emergencies with First Responders, would have provided first responders in the jurisdiction of the county’s Department of Public Health access only to the addresses of those who’ve tested positive for the deadly virus. That area includes 127 municipalities and 2.5 million residents.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveils the county’s economic relief package in March.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveils the county’s economic relief package in March.
Brian Rich/ Sun-Times file

Preckwinkle cited conversations with the county’s health department and its decision to follow guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health as part of her reasoning to veto the measure, which the 17-member County Board passed with bipartisan support.

“As we struggle with the pandemic, it’s been catastrophic for our country. ... We can’t just give in to our fears,” Preckwinkle said.

The measure sparked debate over protecting police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders against the need to protect the public’s right to privacy.

Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton, who sponsored the measure, said Tuesday he was “disappointed” by the veto but he doesn’t plan to fight it.

“I think the thing we have to try to do right now is try to get all of the [personal protective equipment] to our first responders that we possibly can so that they’re protected,” Britton said. “I think that’s going to be the emphasis of what we do going forward.”

Cook County Commissioner Scott R. Britton in December.
Cook County Commissioner Scott R. Britton in December.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Last week, the Glenview Democrat acknowledged the “civil rights issues that are raised” by the resolution. At the time, Britton said he’d like to be able to say “that we don’t have to worry about overreach by the government, that we don’t have to worry about inherent racism in the system.” He couldn’t do that, but argued that the resolution provides some limits.

For Preckwinkle, that acknowledgement didn’t go far enough.

“I don’t see how anyone who understands the endemic nature of racism in this country and the discrimination that black and brown people have experienced, will assume that this resolution is somehow going to be immune from that discrimination and endemic racism,” Preckwinkle said last week, unsuccessfully urging commissioners to vote against the measure. “So for those reasons, there’s no way . . . that I would encourage anyone to support [the resolution.]”

Despite the plea, seven Democratic commissioners and the board’s two Republicans voted for the measure. Seven Democrats voted against it; one voted present.

Preckwinkle’s veto is her first since the start of her tenure as Cook County Board president in 2010. She said the measure could give first responders a false sense of security when out on the job since some coronavirus cases are asymptomatic.

Colleen Connell, executive director of ACLU Illinois, said she “applauds President Preckwinkle for prioritizing the public health and safety of all residents.”

The organization explored options to halt the resolution after it passed, including legal action.

“It is in everybody’s best interest, including first responders, to treat every contact with a member of the public as though they are potentially COVID-positive,” Connell said.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, one of the leaders of the county’s Department of Public Health, said that while certain types of personal protective equipment are in demand, at this point the county has a “sufficient” supply to equip first responders and other health care workers.

“Believe me, first responders of all various classifications are at the top of our minds, the top of our priority lists absolutely,” Rubin said. “We take their safety to be of paramount importance, and that’s why we’re saying that they have to be ready for every single encounter they have with the public and they have to assume that everybody is positive. ... They need to be prepared, and that’s part of being a first responder is being prepared.”



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