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Flavored tobacco rollback set for final City Council meeting of the year

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set Wednesday to endorse the weakening of one of his signature anti-tobacco initiatives at the final City Council meeting of 2016.

Aldermen will vote on a plan to allow the sale of flavored tobacco products like menthol cigarettes and candy-flavored cigars within 500 feet of Chicago grade schools. The Emanuel-backed change is a reversal of the 2013 rule that prohibited those sales, which the mayor then called “a serious thing we’re going to do to protect our kids" from addictive products big tobacco companies use to get them hooked at a young age.

The rollback is being pushed hard by gas station and convenience store owners and aldermen who complain stores are going out of business in their neighborhoods because of the revenue lost from the flavored tobacco sales. The mayor’s office called the proposed amendment, which passed the Finance Committee Monday, "a fair compromise with aldermen on issues important to their communities, while preventing any setback on the progress we’ve made in protecting youth from tobacco use."

Flavored tobacco sales will still be prohibited within 500 feet of high schools. And the new standards would prohibit any new tobacco sales licenses from being issued within 500 feet of a Chicago high school, effectively making such stores now operating within the boundaries the last ones that can sell the products – unless the regulations are changed again. That could help the mayor try to frame the amended guidelines as a continuation of his tough anti-tobacco stance.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda, the council is expected to approve over $9 million in settlements for two police shooting lawsuits and another suit filed by a group of women who complained a physical strength test used for hiring at the Chicago Fire Department was discriminatory.

And aldermen are almost certain to create a $1.3 million "legal protection fund" to help undocumented immigrants fighting possible deportation, an opportunity for them and Emanuel to again bolster their bona fides as opponents of President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration plans. (John Byrne)

What’s on tap

*Mayor Emanuel will preside over the City Council meeting.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner is in Springfield, scheduled to talk criminal justice reform during the noon hour before appearing at an Illinois Department of Transportation event in the early afternoon and at a food bank in the early evening.

*The Cook County Board meets.

What we’re writing

*Rauner’s GOP launches 2018 governor’s race with robocalls attacking Democrat Pritzker.

*Emanuel’s police hiring plan at odds with his record; CPD shrank by 600 or so during his tenure.

*Watchdog: Chicago police can’t tell which officers access city surveillance cameras.

*Mayor Emanuel to attend chiefs of staff meeting in D.C.

*Why one alderman voted against Emanuel’s immigrant legal fund.

What we’re reading

*Suffering in Secret update: Judge demands group home business hand over residents, cites risk of ‘injury.’

*"It was horrible," woman testifies at sex assault trial of ex-NIU cop.

*Explosion in Florida leads to "looming" holiday shortage in canned whipped cream.

From the notebook

*The state will be watching from above: The Illinois Department of Transportation says it has new helpers to keep an eye on roads and bridges: drones.

The agency announced Tuesday it recently purchased two drones to test out ways the technology can help with everything from inspecting bridges, mapping roads and tracking the progress of construction projects. The department also is experimenting with live video so drones could provide real time footage to help determine how to respond to emergency situations.

Officials say they hope the devices will cut costs and improve employee safety by taking the place of workers in high-risk situations. The combined cost for the two drones was $8,800 said spokesman Guy Tridgell, who said potential savings could be “significant.”

“It means less staff you have to have in the field, fewer vehicles you have to have in the field and fewer lane closures for the traveling public,” Tridgell said. (Monique Garcia)

Follow the money 

*Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, reported $12,000 over two filings, via eight $1,500 donations.

*Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang reports $9,500 in contributions, including a $5,000 donation from MZI Group, a Chicago-based company that does electrical construction work.

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here

Beyond Chicago

*The perfect weapon: How Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S.

*Trump’s choice for secretary of state has close ties to Russia, raising concerns.

*Oklahoma court tosses abortion law on hospital privileges.

*Syria to evacuate Aleppo in surrender deal; Russia declares military action over.

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