CAPITOL RECAP: GOP Takes Another Crack at Redistricting Reform
Republicans in the General Assembly have introduced a new bill that would hand over the process of drawing new legislative and congressional district maps to an independent commission that would be required to use official Census Bureau, rather than survey estimates, to draw the maps.
The latest bill, introduced Tuesday as an amendment to Senate Bill 1325, mirrors a proposed constitutional amendment that was introduced in 2019. That proposal, which had 37 cosponsors, died in the 101st General Assembly without receiving a hearing.
Every 10 years, states redraw their legislative and congressional district maps to align with the most recent decennial census. That process is being complicated this year, as the census data needed to complete those tasks has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.
The Census Bureau has said that the data needed for congressional redistricting will be available by April 30. But the more detailed, block-level data that most states need for legislative redistricting won’t be available until the end of September.
But the Census Bureau has also said it will have the more detailed data available in another, less user-friendly format – what’s known as the Legacy Format Summary Redistricting File – by mid- to late-August.
Democrats, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, have suggested they can meet the constitutional deadlines by using population estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. But Republicans are objecting to that idea, saying that data is flawed because it is based on only a sample of all households.
The bill calls for the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the most senior member of the court who is from a different political party to appoint a 16-member Independent Redistricting Commission. It would be composed of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents, and no one who has been elected to a state, federal or local government office within the preceding four years would be eligible to serve on the commission.
The bill also anticipates that the commission will not complete its work by the constitutional June 30 deadline and that an eight-member Legislative Redistricting Commission would also be appointed.
The independent commission would then wait to receive the Legacy Format Summary Redistricting File from the Census Bureau and, within 30 days after that, submit a plan for new state legislative maps to the Legislative Redistricting Commission while submitting its plan for congressional redistricting to the General Assembly.
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SCHOOL REOPENING GUIDE: Gov. JB Pritzker announced the release of a new 180-page Learning Renewal Resource Guide to help school officials identify and address the most significant challenges schools face while reopening after a year of mostly remote learning. .
Pritzker said Illinois school districts can expect to receive roughly $7 billion in federal funds to help them transition back to in-person learning, mainly through the recently-passed American Rescue Plan. About 90 percent of that money will come in the form of direct payments.
In addition, higher education institutions in Illinois will receive about $1.3 billion from the third round of federal relief that was approved in December, for a total of $2.5 billion across all three rounds of federal funding, mainly from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
The resource guide is the work of the Illinois P-20 Council, an agency established in 2009 to study and make recommendations for all levels of education, from preschool through post-college education.
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on low-income students, who often have limited or no access to home computers or broadband internet service, as well as students of color. But she also said that as schools reopen post-pandemic, they will have a new set of resources to help address those underlying inequities.
Melissa Figueira, senior policy associate with Advance Illinois, said it has also had a dramatic impact on enrollment at all levels of education – an estimated 1.9 percent drop in pre-K through 12 schools, with the biggest declines in kindergarten through third grade, and a 5 percent decline in post-secondary enrollment.
The resource guide details 12 topics that districts and higher education institutions may want to consider to equitably address the pandemic’s short-term and long-term impacts.
Among them are ways to support enrollment and retention, redesigning the school calendar by expanding school days and the school year, ways to provide out of classroom learning experiences through tutoring, before and after school programs and summer camps, and enhancing the availability of both academic and behavioral counseling.
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RABINE RUNNING: Businessman Gary Rabine on Tuesday, March 30, announced he will seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, becoming the third candidate to officially enter the field.
The suburban entrepreneur held a pair of kickoff events in Schaumburg and Woodstock on Tuesday, lobbing criticisms at incumbent Gov. JB Pritzker over the state’s property taxes and pandemic-related business closures. The 57-year-old businessman is the owner and founder of Rabine Group, a national exterior services company specializing in commercial paving projects.
Rabine is also an advisory board member and donor for Turning Point USA, a conservative non-profit aimed at promoting conservative principles on college campuses across the country, as well as an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization and the Republican Governors Association. The announcement touted his entrepreneurial experience, saying that he would bring a business-centric approach to create jobs and “let the private sector thrive”.
Rabine said he would assemble a team of “the best economic minds” to establish an Illinois recovery plan with the goal of creating “50,000 jobs or more” per year by 2024. A reversal of what he says is an exodus of businesses and residents.
Although property taxes are set by local units of government, Rabine said he would aim to cut property taxes by at least 50 percent by 2024 as part of his campaign platform.
Rabine said that Pritzker, who he called a “California trust fund billionaire,” bought the governorship and closed thousands of businesses with his COVID-19 executive orders.
When asked by reporters Tuesday about whether he accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election, Rabine would not commit to an answer, saying “I’m not smart enough to understand what was the end result, whether it was stolen or not, and I would never say that.”
His comment drew backlash from the national Democratic Governors Association and the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association Tuesday, with both organizations releasing statements condemning the remarks.
Rabine joins former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, of Waterloo, and surrent state Sen. Darren Bailey, of Xenia, as the currently declared candidates in the Republican primary. The primary election is scheduled to take place on March 15, 2022.
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COVID-19 LIABILITY SHIELD: The top Republican in the state Senate has introduced a bill to shield healthcare providers and others from being held responsible for injuries or deaths related to COVID-19 exposure.
Minority Leader Sen. Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, said Senate Bill 2140 would provide civil liability protection to people working for businesses, manufacturers, schools, institutions of higher education, units of local government and religious institutions.
Last April, Gov. JB Pritzker extended civil liability protections to health care workers, health care volunteers and hospitals in one of his executive orders. But the executive order expired in the end of June and was not reissued.
McConchie said the bill applies to individuals in these settings, as long as an individual’s action at issue was “in substantial compliance or was consistent with any federal or State statute, rule, regulation, order, or public health guidance related to COVID-19 that was applicable to the person or activity at issue at the time of the alleged exposure or potential exposure.”
It would not apply in circumstances where a person in these settings “intended to cause harm,” or acted with “actual malice,” he said. Actions that constitute gross negligence or willful misconduct are also not protected from liability, he said.
McConchie’s bill had one co-sponsor as of Thursday morning, a fellow Republican, Sen. Brian Stewart.
The measure is supported by many business, insurance and medical groups, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Health & Hospital Association, Illinois State Medical Society, Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Health Care Council of Illinois and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
Among the groups opposed to the bill is the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, which advocates for attorneys who primarily represent individuals in personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death cases.
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Larry Rogers Jr. said the bill goes too far in affording civil liability protections, essentially “granting broad immunities and heightened standards, with regard to proving liability.”
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CRIMINAL JUSTICE FUNDING: A state agency related to criminal justice on Wednesday requested a funding increase to implement new policies and programs meant to improve racial equity and curb violence in Illinois, while the Illinois Department of Corrections outlined a decreased spending request.
The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority requested $47.1 million from the Illinois General Revenue Fund as part of a $273.8 million budget for fiscal year 2022. That includes $171.7 million in federal funding and the rest from other state funds. They made the request at a Senate committee hearing.
The request is $1 million more than the $46.1 million ICJIA received from the General Revenue Fund in the current fiscal year. The budget was outlined in Senate Bill 418.
ICJIA’s task as a state agency is to improve how the administration of criminal justice is carried out by other state agencies and entities in Illinois. This is mostly done through awarding grants, conducting research and analysis, planning and writing policy, and improving information and technology used in criminal justice.
The $1 million increase is to help the agency comply with new responsibilities established by the Safe-T Act, a massive criminal justice reform legislation signed by Gov. JB Pritzker in February. Several of the provisions in the new law require action by ICJIA, such as improved reporting for deaths in custody and research and data collection on pretrial practices, domestic violence and substance abuse.
According to testimony by ICJIA officials, $800,000 will go toward staffing related to the new duties, and $200,000 will go to ICJIA grant programs.
Outside of the proposed budget, ICJIA officials said the agency and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts would need an additional $1-2 million funding increase between the two agencies to build the database and infrastructure required for the reporting requirements of the Safe-T Act.
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CORRECTIONS BUDGET: The Illinois Department of Corrections’ budget request outlined Wednesday, March 31, in Senate Bill 382, includes $1.54 billion from the General Revenue Fund and $97 million coming from other state sources. IDOC Director Rob Jeffreys said that was a 10 percent reduction from the enacted appropriation for this year.
According to Jeffreys, the decrease was possible thanks to “evidence-based programming” and reforms meant to reduce recidivism for former prisoners and streamline corrections operations. As a result, Illinois’ prison population has decreased by 20 percent, to its lowest level since 1991, a feat Jeffreys said was accelerated by COVID-19.
Senate Bills 649 and 2128, both introduced by Chicago Democrat Sen. Robert Peters, are meant to address inequities suffered by Illinois’ incarcerated population, which is disproportionately non-white.
SB 649 would mandate that persons committed to IDOC or IDJJ who work as part of a work release, training or correctional industries program be paid the state minimum wage.
Witnesses testifying on behalf of the bill compared the state’s current minimum wage for prisoners, 18 cents per hour, to slavery.
Peters’ bill would raise IDOC prisoner wages to $9.25 an hour and raise the pay unemployed prisoners receive from the state from $10 per month to $270 per month. The former would cost $127 million annually, the latter would cost $62 million annually.
However, both incomes would be taxable by the state and federal government, and witnesses testified that most prisoners spend their money on goods sold by correctional facilities, which would circulate some of the money back to the state.
SB 2128 would add an additional $3.3 million to IDOC’s general revenue budget, exclusively for the purpose of restoring educational staff serving persons in IDOC custody to 2006 levels. The funds will be used to hire 31 educators and 19 vocational instructors.
If passed, it would be a 0.21 percent increase in IDOC’s FY2022 general revenue fund appropriation sought by Jeffreys.
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BUSINESS CLOSURES: Hospitality jobs in Illinois have declined nearly 52 percent since the pandemic began, according to new data, as lawsuits continue against the governor’s orders to close nonessential businesses.
While leisure and hospitality jobs were hit the hardest, the number of small businesses open in Illinois overall has fallen by about 36.5 percent, as of March 20, compared to last January, based on data compiled by Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit group at Harvard University.
Opportunity Insights’ data shows a significant number of closures following the governor’s stay-at-home order which took effect in March and continued to the end of May. The percentage of small business closures in Illinois was about 5 percent in early March 2020, and reached more than 42 percent on March 29, according to the data.
The decline in Illinois’ small businesses is similar to the national trend for the same time period. Nationally, the number of small businesses decreased by about 34 percent, with about a 51 percent decline in leisure and hospitality jobs, according to the data.
The data is based on small business transactions and revenues from Womply, “a company that aggregates data from several credit card processors to provide analytical insights to small businesses and other clients,” according to the study.
The data also shows that small business revenue overall in Illinois fell by nearly 28 percent from January 2020 to March 20. The amount of total revenue from hospitality and leisure businesses specifically saw a 57.9 percent decrease in that time period.
Nationwide, small businesses overall experienced a 24 percent decrease in revenues, with revenues for leisure and hospitality businesses falling roughly 53.4 percent from January 2020 to March 20.
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ASSAULT WEAPON BAN CHALLENGE: Legal challenges against a ban on assault weapons in suburban Deerfield have reached the state’s highest court. Two consolidated lawsuits against the Lake County suburb were among the 14 total criminal and civil cases that the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear on appeal.
Guns Save Life Inc., the Second Amendment Foundation and Illinois State Rifle Association sued Deerfield shortly after the village amended its assault weapon ordinances in June 2018 to ban the civilian use of assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
The groups argued that the ban violated amendments to the Concealed Carry Act and FOID Card Act that govern the processes for certain municipalities to impose limits on gun ownership beyond state laws.
When state lawmakers amended the FOID Card Act in 2013, they added a provision that allowed municipalities with a population of at least 25,000 to adopt stricter gun laws if the municipality passed an ordinance regulating gun ownership within 10 days of the law becoming effective on July 9, 2013.
Deerfield passed a new ordinance on July 1, 2013, that regulated the storage and transportation of assault weapons. The village’s assault weapon ban in 2018 amended this 2013 ordinance.
The gun rights groups maintained the amendments to the FOID Card Act should be interpreted as preempting the authority of local municipalities to pass gun ordinances that are more restrictive than state laws. The Lake County judge hearing the cases consolidated the lawsuits.
In 2019, the Lake County trial judge ruled in favor of the gun rights groups by finding that the FOID Card Act amendment in 2013 intended to create a 10-day window for municipalities to “ban ownership or possession of assault weapons,” the judge found.
Deerfield appealed this decision to the 2nd District Appellate Court, and in December 2020, the court reversed the trial judge’s decision and found Deerfield’s assault weapon ban did not violate the FOID Card Act.
The appellate court also ruled that the village’s ban on large capacity magazines, to the extent it regulated hand gun ammunition, violated the FOID Card Act.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last week.
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AUTO DEALERS SUE: The Illinois Automobile Dealers Association has filed a lawsuit against Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, alleging that White is allowing unlicensed, unregulated dealers to operate in Illinois, in violation of state law.
At issue in the case is whether automobile manufacturers should be allowed to own and operate their own dealerships rather than contracting with independent dealership franchises, which has been the case in Illinois and most other states for decades.
But in recent years, there has been a growing trend of “vertical integration” within the industry, especially within the electric car industry where manufacturers like Tesla and others have insisted that they have a right to sell their own products directly to customers.
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the operations of two electric vehicle manufacturers, Rivian and Lucid Motors, which the lawsuit says are both taking online orders for sales directly to the public in Illinois.
In their complaint, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, IADA, along with several local dealer associations and numerous individual auto dealers, argue that under a decades-old Illinois law, no one is allowed to engage in the business of selling new vehicles unless they are a licensed dealer, and the only way to become a licensed dealer is to have a contract with a manufacturer establishing a franchise agreement.
According to the complaint, White’s office, which is responsible for administering the state’s vehicle laws, first granted Tesla permission to sell new vehicles directly to consumers in 2009.
In May 2019, all the parties entered into an administrative consent order that limited Tesla to no more than 13 dealerships in the state at any one time.
The plaintiffs are seeking an order directing White’s office to enforce the state’s Vehicle Code and stop Rivian, Lucid and other car dealerships from directly selling vehicles in-state. They also are seeking an injunction against Rivian and Lucid to prevent the ongoing sale of vehicles to Illinoisans until a decision is reached.
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COVID-19 UPDATE: The state reported 3,526 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 Thursday, April 1, the highest one-day total since Feb. 5.
That drove the seven-day rolling average case positivity rate to 3.5 percent, a high since Feb. 3, as more than 96,000 test results were reported over the previous 24 hours. Another 25 COVID-19-positive Illinoisans were reported to have died over the previous 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 21,326 since the pandemic began.
Hospitalizations continued to trend upward as well, with 1,411 hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients, including 304 intensive care unit beds and 121 ventilators.
Vaccinations continue to increase, but the vast majority of Illinoisans have still not been completely vaccinated. As of Thursday, 17.3 percent of the state’s population, or over 2.2 million people, were fully vaccinated. More than 5.9 million doses have been administered of the more than 7.5 million doses that have been distributed to providers.
Over the previous 24 hours, 116,551 doses were administered, bringing the seven-day average to 109,073, an increase of about 8,000 from a week ago.
On Wednesday, national news outlets including Politico and the New York Times reported that a “mix-up” at the factory of Emergent BioSolutions, which manufactures vaccine for both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, mixed the ingredients of two different vaccines, spoiling up to 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
A spokesperson for Gov. JB Pritzker said the state’s anticipated shipment for next week is not expected to be affected by the error, but the administration is awaiting further guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moving forward.
The uptick in the general disease spread and hospitalizations for the virus have halted entry into a “bridge” phase to reopening that would have allowed for greater maximum capacities at social events, bars, restaurants and other businesses.
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UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE: Unemployment remains high in the state, although the 14,189 new claims for the week ending March 27 represented a 9 percent decrease from the week prior and a 92 percent decrease from the same period one year ago.
Continued claims decreased by 4 percent from the week prior, to 215,164, according to data released Thursday, April 1.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported that unemployment rates increased and jobs decreased in every metro area of the state in the month of February compared to the year prior, which was the final month before the pandemic began wreaking havoc on public health and the global economy.
Statewide, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate spiked from 3.7 percent to 7.8 percent over the one-year period. The not seasonally adjusted rate nationally was 6.6 percent in February.
All 14 metropolitan areas saw decreases in nonfarm jobs, with the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights Metropolitan Division seeing a decrease of 8.8 percent, or 330,200 jobs. The Elgin Metro Division fell 8.2 percent or by 21,000 jobs, and the Kankakee area fell 8.1 percent or by 3,700 jobs.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.