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CAPITOL RECAP: October 1, 2022

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Capitol News Illinois
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Pritzker, Bailey talk SAFE-T Act, more at forum

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Gov. JB Pritzker is considering changes to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform to clarify provisions related to the end of cash bail in Illinois, while his Republican challenger, state Sen. Darren Bailey, continues to push for a full repeal.

Pritzker has frequently stated he believes cash bail must end in favor of a system that prioritizes an accused person’s risk of reoffending or fleeing prosecution, and the SAFE-T Act does so. But nearly all the state’s prosecutors have warned that the system replacing the current pretrial detention language is too limiting for judges.

Inaccurate claims surrounding the SAFE-T Act have been rampant, with Bailey stating Friday he believed the intent of it was to let people who are being held in lieu of bail out of jail once it takes effect. Nothing in the law says that will happen, although an Illinois Supreme Court task force has encouraged lawmakers to clarify language regarding what happens Jan. 1.

“And so there are proposals that have been made to make clarifications in the law to make sure that people understand very well that, no, this law does not create non-detainable offenses. And that, no, people are not going to be let out of jail on Jan. 1 – that’s not what the law does,” Pritzker said.

The governor stopped short of endorsing a bill that would make changes to the SAFE-T Act that was filed last week by Champaign Democrat Scott Bennett, a former prosecutor. But he said it contains “simple to understand” clarifying language. Bennett’s bill, among other things, would clarify that the end of cash bail applies to those arrested after Jan. 1, 2023.

“I haven't gone through every provision that he has proposed, but I know that Senator Bennett, who was a prosecutor, a Democrat from Champaign and Vermillion counties, is somebody who is very careful in the way he approaches issues like this and I'm always open to working with people who are rational and reasonable in their proposals,” he said.

But lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to the Capitol until Nov. 15, a week after Election Day.

Bailey, a farmer from downstate Xenia, said he’d like to see the governor call a special session ahead of the election to consider SAFE-T Act changes. But he hasn’t proposed any in bill form, and he said he’d favor a full repeal. He pointed to several endorsements from law enforcement groups.

“So if I were governor right now, and if I were sitting here and people across this state were as concerned as they are about their safety, I’d call a special session right now ….” Bailey said. “It's an election year, Gov. Pritzker. You've got a perfect opportunity to have a little political ploy here. Call session back in and let's talk and let's come up with solutions.”

The candidates shared their thoughts Friday on those and other issues during a virtual forum organized by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors. Questioners included representatives of Shaw Media, the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, the Springfield State Journal-Register and Capitol News Illinois.

A full video of the candidate forum, which also included discussion of township governments and other topics, can be viewed here.

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UNEMPLOYMENT DEBT: Gov. JB Pritzker announced a plan Tuesday, Sept. 27, to reduce a $1.8 billion Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund deficit by $450 million through an infusion of unemployment-related revenues.

The trust fund is the pool of money paid into by employers to provide a social safety net for unemployed individuals. The employer’s insurance premiums are essentially collected via payroll tax.

The “deficit” figure represents money Illinois must repay to the federal government. It was borrowed under Title XII of the Social Security Act so the state could continue to pay unemployment claims amid the COVID-19 pandemic and is accruing interest at a rate of 1.59 percent annually.

While that balance exceeded $4.5 billion as the unemployment rate reached 16 percent at the height of the pandemic, lawmakers in March dedicated $2.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay down the deficit to the balance of roughly $1.8 billion.

The $450 million announced Tuesday will bring the deficit below $1.4 billion.

Pritzker said Tuesday at a news conference in Chicago that the move was made possible by low unemployment rates that drove up UI trust fund balance. Last week, the state announced unemployment rates were down from one year ago in all 14 metro areas, ranging from 3.8 percent in the Moline and Rock Island area to 6.8 percent around Decatur.

Pritzker said he expects the move to save the state about $10 million in interest costs.

Pritzker said business and labor interests continue to negotiate a solution for reducing the deficit further. But they’re approaching a Nov. 10 deadline after which federal tax hikes would take effect if the balance isn’t erased by that date. Lawmakers are not scheduled to return to the Capitol until Nov. 15.

The process is spelled out in the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, or FUTA.

Federal law requires an employer to pay a FUTA tax on an employee’s first $7,000 of wages at a rate of 6 percent. But it also offers businesses a 5.4 percent tax credit, putting the effective rate at 0.6 percent.

If a state has a negative balance in the trust fund on Jan. 1 for two consecutive years – as Illinois has had – it has until Nov. 10 of the second year to retire that deficit, or the federal government will start clawing back 0.3 percent of the FUTA tax credit from employers each year until the deficit is gone.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Employment Security said in March that the 0.3 percent tax credit reduction would apply to businesses for the 2022 tax year if a balance remains in place on Nov. 10.

As of Tuesday, Illinois was one of five states and the U.S. Virgin Islands that had an outstanding trust fund balance, according to the U.S. Treasury. Other states included California at $17.8 billion, New York at $7.9 billion, Connecticut at $97 million, Colorado at $33 million and the Virgin Islands at $96 million.

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ERA LAWSUIT: Attorneys for the state of Illinois joined their colleagues in Nevada and Virginia Wednesday, Sept. 28, in asking a federal appellate court to declare that the Equal Rights Amendment has been legally ratified as the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“I have a daughter who intends to practice law, and the Constitution she will pledge to protect should fully protect her as well,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement released after the oral arguments. “Until the United States Constitution reflects our society’s commitment to not go backward, none of us should stop fighting for equality.”

Illinois Solicitor General Jane Notz argued the state’s case before the appellate court.

In 1972, the amendment cleared both chambers of Congress by two-thirds majorities and was sent to the states for ratification.

The proposed amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

At issue in the case is a clause in the original resolution that said it would become valid when ratified by three-fourths of the states “within seven years from the date of its submission by the Congress.”

Thirty-eight states are needed for ratification of an amendment, but when the deadline lapsed in 1979, only 35 states had ratified the amendment, and six of those had taken subsequent votes to rescind their endorsement.

In 2017, Nevada became the first state to ratify the amendment after the deadline. Illinois followed suit in 2018 and Virginia voted to ratify the amendment in 2020, making it the 38th state to vote for ratification.

Shortly after the Virginia vote, Illinois and Nevada joined Virginia in filing a lawsuit seeking an order for National Archivist David Ferriero to publish and certify the amendment as part of the U.S. Constitution.

But a federal judged ruled against them in March 2021.

Illinois and Nevada appealed that ruling. Virginia did not take part in the appeal.

In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Illinois and Nevada argued that the process of ratifying constitutional amendments is spelled out in Article V of the Constitution, which says nothing about Congress having authority to set deadlines for ratification. They also argued that the Constitution is silent on whether states can rescind their ratification of an amendment.

Ferriero was joined by five states opposing the amendment – Alabama, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Tennessee – in arguing that the ERA had not been duly ratified.

They argued that Congress does have a right to set deadlines for ratification and, in fact, has used a seven-year deadline several times, beginning with the 18th amendment that established prohibition, which was ratified in 1919.

They also argued that states have a right to rescind their ratification if a proposed amendment does not achieve the three-fourths threshold within a reasonable period of time.

Finally, they also argued that the ERA is about “creating a federal constitutional backstop for abortion rights.”

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CNI EXPANSION: Capitol News Illinois will significantly expand its operations as it enters the fifth year of operations in 2023 because of a significant grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

The McCormick Foundation has announced a three-year, $2 million investment in Capitol News Illinois, a nonprofit news organization that provides daily coverage of state government and is operated by the Illinois Press Foundation.

The CNI grant is one of four being announced by the McCormick Foundation, which is also investing in Block Club Chicago, Injustice Watch and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The four grants total $7.5 million over three years. The grants complement the McCormick Foundation’s investment in the Illinois Solutions Partnership, formed with the Better Government Association and announced in 2021.

The McCormick Foundation has granted Capitol News Illinois $700,000 over its first four years of operations. McCormick said the increased investment in CNI will “help a promising outlet scale to meet the need for greater scrutiny in Springfield.”

Jeff Rogers, the executive director of the Illinois Press Foundation and editor of Capitol News Illinois, said the McCormick investment will be used to expand the news service’s print reporting operations, launch a broadcast news operation in 2023, and hire a development director that will be tasked with growing and diversifying revenue streams to support continued editorial growth and impact.

Other Capitol News Illinois initiatives planned in the coming months and years with the McCormick investment include adding print reporters outside of the Springfield area; continuing to grow the broadcast newsroom; and hiring a photographer/videographer, a web/digital developer, an events coordinator, and a college internships coordinator. News literacy and civics initiatives are also planned, as is an expanded effort to provide analytical reporting and commentary.

Capitol News Illinois operates solely on grants and donations. It does not charge a subscription for access to its coverage or a fee to publish its stories. The McCormick Foundation and Illinois Press Foundation have been the major donors to CNI during its nearly four years of operation.

In recent weeks, Capitol News Illinois has also received financial commitments from the Illinois Broadcasters Association and the Southern Illinois Editorial Association that will also aid in the news service’s expansion efforts. More details on those investments will be made soon.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Capitol News Illinois
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