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State lawmakers pass measure limiting state investment in Russian assets

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Capitol News Illinois
State Rep. Lindsey LaPointe urges the Illinois House to pass a bill calling for divestment from Russian and Belarusian assets for their involvement in the war in Ukraine.

Bill urges financial divestment of stocks, sovereign debt of Russia and Belarus

The Illinois House gave final passage Wednesday to a bill aimed at prohibiting state investment in assets tied to Russia and Belarus in retaliation for their participation in the war in Ukraine.

House Bill 1293, by Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, urges the state’s five retirement systems to divest their holdings in companies domiciled in either of those countries as well as their sovereign debt, and prohibits them from making new investments there.

“We can't sit back and just wait for the war in Ukraine to be over,” LaPointe said during debate on the House floor. “We in Illinois have to do everything we can … to make sure we're doing our part to call out Russia and to end this war.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and at times has used Belarus, with that government’s permission, as a staging ground for incursions from the north.

As of Nov. 7, the war had resulted in an estimated 6,490 civilian deaths, with another 9,972 civilians injured, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Millions more have been displaced from their homes or fled the country.

The bill urges, but does not explicitly require, all state pension funds and retirement systems “to divest their holdings in any companies that are domiciled in Russia or Belarus” while also urging all Illinois municipalities to reconsider any sister-city relationships they may have with cities in Russia.

A spokesman for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, the state’s largest pension fund, said in an email that the system’s total exposure in Russian assets is only about $4.27 million, or 0.007 percent of the fund’s total portfolio. It has no investments in Belarus.

Public colleges and universities would also be required to disclose to the Board of Higher Education any endowment or other donation they receive from a source associated with any individual or entity listed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned entities or from any company that is domiciled in or has its principal place of business in Russia or Belarus.

The bill also urges the U.S. State Department to resettle Ukrainian refugees in Illinois while giving the Illinois Department of Human Services authority to adopt emergency rules to ensure availability of refugee resettlement services.

Additionally, the bill seeks to prevent Russian meddling in Illinois elections ahead of the 2024 races by creating an Elections and Infrastructure Integrity Task Force to prepare for and prevent foreign interference in elections.

Finally, the bill seeks to stem the flow of illicit money from Russian and other sources into the Illinois real estate market by creating a Money Laundering in Real Estate Task Force to identify vulnerabilities in the real estate sector that facilitate money laundering.

The bill initially passed the House by a unanimous vote in April, just weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it did not pass out of the Senate due to the General Assembly’s abbreviated schedule last spring.

The Senate did take up the bill during the first week of the veto session and made some minor amendments before passing it 50-0 and sending it back to the House. The House on Wednesday accepted the Senate changes and passed it, 109-0.

Although no one spoke against the bill, Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said he would like to see similar legislation calling for divestment from companies tied to the Chinese Communist Party.

“Russia is a bad actor, nobody's arguing that, but China's worse,” Wilhour said. “I just ask that we hold China, who has, along with many in our government and many in our corporations, taken advantages of American workers for decades. And they're a far more powerful adversary. We need to hold them to the same standards that we're doing here with Russia.”

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

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019.
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