Pritzker says budget 'acknowledges that massive disruption leads to difficult decisions'

SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers approved a state operating budget shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, May 24, but despite the passage of the document, nothing about the next fiscal year is black and white.  

The state is depending on a broad package providing federal monetary aid to states passing through the U.S. Congress, or, failing that, borrowing up to $5 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve at an interest rate of approximately 3.8 percent.

"Well there's no doubt that we're going to have to revisit the budget if the federal government doesn't come through,” Gov. JB Pritzker said when asked if the state had a plan for a revenue stream to pay back the borrowing. “I think all 50 states are going to have to be revisiting their budgets if the federal government doesn’t come through.”

Pritzker took questions in his office at the Capitol on Sunday morning, about nine hours after the General Assembly adjourned on just its fourth day of legislative session since March 5.

The $42.8 billion budget keeps spending roughly flat from a year ago despite revenue for next year decreasing by an unknown number of billions and the potential of even further economic devastation should COVID-19 see a resurgence in the fall that coincides with a virulent flu season.

“The budget the General Assembly has sent to my desk acknowledges that massive economic disruption leads to difficult decisions,” Pritzker said.

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BUDGET PASSAGE: The Senate on early Sunday morning, May 24, passed a budget package authorizing $42.8 billion in general revenue spending next year, although much of that remains tentative depending on the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential congressional action that could send more financial aid to states. The House approved the budget bill late Saturday night, May 23.

The budget deal was worked out largely out of public view over the past two and a half months as lawmakers worked remotely in various informal “working groups,” and it continued to undergo changes in recent days in advance of the House debate.

One key to making the budget work is a plan to borrow up to $5 billion from the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility program. That program allows the central bank to purchase certain short-term debt from states to help them make up for the loss of revenue they’ve seen since the pandemic forced them to close large parts of their economy.

It also authorizes another $1.5 billion in borrowing between the general revenue fund and various other state funds in order to maintain cash flow throughout the year.

House Majority Leader Gregory Harris, D-Chicago, said that by borrowing from the Fed, Illinois will be able to keep state spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1 largely at the same level as this year’s spending.

“If we’re going to balance the budget, I would rather not do it on the backs of people who would lose their jobs if we were to cut money to our schools, cut money to our first responders,” he said. “I don’t want thousands more people out of work.”

Lawmakers expect to pay back the Federal Reserve loan with federal funds they expect Congress to approve in the next stimulus package for states. But Congress has not yet authorized such a package and there is sharp disagreement between congressional Republicans and Democrats over what that plan should look like.

Both chambers of the Illinois Legislature passed a separate bill authorizing that borrowing Friday night.

“What we’ve heard today is a budget that is balanced only on a wing and a prayer,” said Republican Rep. Tom Demmer, of Dixon, the House GOP’s chief budget negotiator.

During the Senate debate that began after midnight, Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the Legislature is “gambling” with its budget plan.

The spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year is spelled out in Senate Bill 264. According to an analysis of the package that was circulating among lawmakers Saturday, it essentially calls for flat funding for most state programs, including K-12 schools, which will see no increase in their evidence-based funding over their current levels, although they will not see any decrease either.

Funding for state universities is also held flat at current-year levels, as is funding for the Monetary Aid Program, or MAP grants, and AIM HIGH grants.

A few state agencies are slated for increases in the new budget, including the Illinois Department of Public Health, the agency coordinating much of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its total budget, including federal funds, is slated to grow 144 percent, to more than $1.6 billion.

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REOPENING FRIDAY: Illinois advanced to the “Recovery” phase of Gov. JB Pritzker’s plan to incrementally reopen the state’s economy on Friday, May 29, after almost 70 days of residents living under a stay-at-home restriction.

People will still be expected to wear facial coverings and practice social distancing when in public places.

“Non-essential” businesses and stores, closed for more than two months to in-person customers and workers, can reopen Friday with capacity limitations, social distancing observations and other safety guidance measures from IDPH.

That same guidance will be implemented for barbershops and salons. And for those workplaces that can enable remote activities, it is encouraged they do so.

Restaurants will remain closed to indoor dining, but Pritzker amended the Phase 3 plan to allow outdoor, socially distanced dining. Delivery, pickup and drive-thru are still options.

All of the state’s 5,000-plus child care providers not in operation will be advised to reopen. Pritzker said for the first four weeks that they are open, providers will be able to serve up to 10 children per classroom.

All state parks, wildlife areas and historic sites will be available to visit as well, and social gatherings of no more than 10 people will be allowed.

Fitness clubs can also hold outdoor activities, as well as one-on-one training with an instructor so long as public health department guidance is observed.

The changes are permitted because all four Illinois regions — groupings of counties based on IDPH’s emergency medical service districts — achieved specified benchmarks. Those include a COVID-19 positivity rate below 20 percent for 14 consecutive days and a stable or declining hospitalization rate.

The next step after the “recovery” phase is “revitalization.” Schools and other child care programs can reopen so long as social distancing is observed, restaurants can serve in-house diners and social gatherings will be limited to 50 people or fewer.

Framers of the plan anticipate at least a 28-day period before the state can progress into that phase, meaning no sooner than Friday, June 26.

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CHURCHES REOPENING: People in Illinois will be allowed to attend worship services starting this weekend without fear of prosecution as the state enters Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” reopening plan.

Pritzker made the announcement during his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday, May 28, in Chicago, the same day a new lawsuit was filed in Lake County Circuit Court challenging the ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people as it applied to worship services.

It also came on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court was preparing to decide whether it would hear the appeal of another case involving two churches in Chicago that were challenging the ban.

“Having received many plans and ideas from responsible faith leaders, (the Illinois Department of Public Health) has reviewed many detailed proposals and has provided guidance – not mandatory restrictions – for all faith leaders to use in their efforts to ensure the health and safety of their congregants,” Pritzker said. “This includes suggestions on capacity limits, new cleaning protocols, indoor gatherings of 10 persons or less, a reduction of activities like sharing food and the safe conduct of outdoor congregating.”

“The safest options remain remote and drive-in services,” he added. “But for those that want to conduct in-person activities, IDPH is offering best practices.”

Earlier in the day, the Thomas More Society, a conservative public-interest law firm based in Chicago, filed suit in Lake County on behalf of five local churches and their pastors who said they intended to hold worship services anyway on Sunday, which is the Christian holy day of Pentecost.

“This is a total and complete victory for people of faith,” Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society, said in a statement. “Illinois’ governor and his administration abused the COVID-19 pandemic to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois. By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois.”

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HORSE RACING: Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday, May 28, said horse racing will return to Illinois tracks under the next phase of reopening that begins Friday, May 29.

“The Department of Agriculture has worked with the IDPH, with the Illinois Racing Board and the industry leaders to develop guidelines for racing, allowing those whose livelihoods depend on these races to get back to work, and allowing spectators to work from home and place wagers online and over the phone,” he said.

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COVID-19 HEALTH STATISTICS: For the first time since Illinois had its first reported case of COVID-19 in January, the state saw fewer deaths in a week than in the previous week.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Tuesday, May 26, that 780 people died from the virus this past week. There were 790 deaths the previous week.

And although that number “represents 780 individuals who lost their lives and families and loved ones and communities who are mourning those deaths,” Ezike said it makes her “hopeful that this fact is the beginning of a downward trend.”

The state on Thursday, May 28, reported another 104 deaths from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 5,186 fatalities since the pandemic first arrived.

There were another 1,527 cases reported Thursday among 25,993 for a positivity rate of 5.8 percent, bringing the preliminary seven-day statewide positivity rate from May 21-27 to 8.3 percent.

COVID-19 hospitalization measures continue to improve as well, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, as there were 3,649 people hospitalized with the disease caused by the virus as of midnight Thursday. Of those, 1,009 were in intensive care unit beds and 576 were on ventilators. All of those numbers were trending downward.

That’s good news as the state readies to enter the third phase of the governor’s Restore Illinois reopening plan Friday which will allow for more businesses to open.

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COVID-19 PEAK PASSED: Gov JB Pritzker during his daily briefing Tuesday, May 26, offered a more definitive marker of the state’s progress in its fight against COVID-19: Illinois has surpassed its peak in cases.

“Looking at the numbers on a daily basis, looking at a weekly average basis,” he said, “…we seem to have come off the peak.”

All four regions in the Restore Illinois reopening plan are still on track to move into Phase 3 on Friday, according to IDPH figures. Each region has a positive case rate below 20 percent, stable hospitalizations and hospital bed availability above 14 percent.

The statewide rate of tests with positive results, which hit a high of 23 percent in late April, is now averaging 9.2 percent for the past 7 days. Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are at a six-week low after holding steady earlier this month. Also, the availability rates of both hospital beds and ICU beds are above 30 percent.

“So as we look at each individual region, you see the same trends playing out everywhere,” Pritzker said.

The governor credited the face covering requirement in place since May 1 for the progress made this month.

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TESTING AT LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES: The state health department filed emergency rules Thursday, May 28, mandating that long-term care facilities develop testing plans to better protect residents and ensure they are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately.

“The overwhelming majority of long-term care facilities in Illinois are privately run,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 news conference in Chicago. “In response to the COVID-19 crisis, some of those facilities have acted proactively, some only reactively.”

Pritzker said of roughly 1,100 long-term care facilities that care for elderly Illinoisans, 900 have “been connected with directly or in person” by the Illinois Department of Public Health office of health care regulation, its consultants or its teams of nurses.

Pritzker said the state now has two groups of nurses “fanning out to long-term care facilities around the state.” That includes a group of 200 IDPH nurses who are conducting “focused COVID-19 infectious disease control surveys to monitor compliance,” or conducting swab testing and training staff to do the testing. That group also reviews each facility’s personal protective equipment use and hygiene practices.

Another group of 100 contract nurses monitors for infection prevention and control and provides “additional testing systems.”

The governor said some facilities opt out of receiving IDPH help, however, “sometimes because they choose to take their own specimens using IDPH swabs, or because they choose to work with the county or city health department instead.”

Others work with their local hospitals and health centers to source and conduct tests, he said.

The state has also distributed about 45,000 testing kits, in 200 shipments, to 170 nursing homes, and personal protective equipment has been delivered to every nursing home in the state as well.

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CONTACT TRACING: In East St. Louis on Wednesday, May 27, Gov. JB Pritzker joined city and county officials to highlight the upcoming contact tracing effort. That’s a project during which officials attempt to trace all other individuals who have been in recent contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 so they can take precautions to prevent spreading it to anyone else.

Although IDPH has engaged in contact-tracing for years with other disease outbreaks, particularly HIV, Pritzker said, the size and scope of the COVID-19 outbreak will require hiring thousands of additional people in all parts of the state.

St. Clair County is one of two counties, along with Lake County north of Chicago, chosen to operate a pilot program because they have large numbers of people who are especially vulnerable to developing complications from the disease.

Pritzker said the state is tracing about 30 percent of those who have been in contact with people who’ve tested positive, but the goal is to reach more than 60 percent.

“It’s going to take us weeks and weeks. I can’t tell you how long,” he said. “Some people think it will take through August to do it. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do it much faster than that. But as fast as we can we’re getting dollars out to the counties so that they can do the hiring that they need.”

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TWO COUNTIES, ZERO CASES: Now that Illinois has surpassed 800,000 COVID-19 tests – more than 6 percent of the state’s population – it remains a mystery why two counties, which have run hundreds of tests between the two of them, have yet to report a single COVID-19 case.

Scott County, home to just fewer than 5,000 people in west-central Illinois, and Edgar County, home to just more than 17,000 people halfway down the Indiana border on the state’s eastern edge, have not reported a case of COVID-19 in the four months since the virus’ presence in Illinois was first confirmed in late January.

Scott and Edgar counties’ zero cases are not for a lack of testing, however, according to state and local statistics. Just over 4 percent of Scott County’s population – about 200 residents – has been tested, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data updated Wednesday, May 27.

As of Wednesday morning, 663 Edgar County residents had been tested and results on seven of those are pending, said Monica Dunn, assistant administrator for the Edgar County Public Health Department.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the testing, it just has to do with the fact that the people who have been tested have not tested positive,” she said.

Scott County Health Department Administrator Steve Shireman credits his county’s lack of cases partially to residents closely obeying health precautions and state orders.

Just because the counties have not officially reported a case does not mean no residents have had the virus, both officials said.

“People that aren’t exhibiting symptoms don’t know that they need to be tested,” Dunn said.

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LAWMAKER PAY: The complexities of Illinois’ legislator pay laws were on display again this week as the state’s comptroller insisted in a video message that there will be no raises for lawmakers this year.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat and the state’s chief fiscal officer, emphatically said in a one-minute YouTube video there would be “zero” raises for lawmakers despite claims to the contrary.

“By law, there is a (cost of living adjustment) in the budget every year,” Mendoza said in the video. “But this year, the General Assembly voted to make the COLA zero, and I'm glad because it's the right thing to do, especially in the COVID-19 crisis that has really hit our state budget hard.”

Mendoza should know, she said in the video, because she writes the checks in Illinois, and money not appropriated by the General Assembly cannot be spent. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the same on the Senate floor, noting lawmakers intentionally appropriated zero dollars for raises this year.

Republicans, however, issued news releases and spoke on the floor Saturday claiming the budget included the automatic raises. The state GOP asserted on Twitter that one lawsuit from a “safe, entrenched legislator” could force the payment of the raises which the comptroller has unequivocally denied she will pay.

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GOP WANTS EMPLOYMENT AUDIT: A group of four Republican state representatives is calling for a state audit of the Illinois Department of Employment Security to examine a data breach at the agency and its continued slow adaptation to the unprecedented number of unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was a failure from day one, and now is the source of a data breach. These are unacceptable failures,” said state Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, in a virtual news conference Thursday, May 28.

She was joined by state Reps. Mike Marron of Fithian, Charlie Meier of Okawville and Brad Stephens of Rosemont.

Bryant and her three fellow House Republicans plan to file a resolution that would instruct Auditor General Frank Mautino to complete a full audit of IDES, although Bryant said she wants Pritzker to fix the IDES problems before legislators get involved.

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FLOODING PREPARATIONS: Gov. JB Pritzker spent much of the day Wednesday, May 27, in downstate Illinois, where he observed flood preparations along the Illinois River in Meredosia.

About 60 Illinois National Guard soldiers have been deployed to Meredosia, about 60 miles west of Springfield, to assist local emergency management officials in stacking an estimated 150,000 sandbags to shore up a levee that protects the town of about 980 residents.

Morgan and Pike counties were under flood warnings Wednesday as the river there reached a height of 25.3 feet, which is more than eight feet above flood stage.

“National Weather Service projections had indicated massive potential flooding in the area,” Pritzker said during his daily briefing, this time from the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Center in East St. Louis. “This work has likely saved many lives and prevented hardship for hundreds more.”

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NOV. 3 ELECTION: A major expansion of voting access for the 2020 general election is headed to the desk of Gov. JB Pritzker after the Illinois Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure Friday, May 23.

After more than an hour of floor debate, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 1863 by a 37-19 party-line vote. Three Democrats – Jacqueline Collins, of Chicago, Robert Martwick, of Chicago, and Pat McGuire, of Crest Hill – did not vote. The bill, which Pritzker has said he supports, expands mail-in voting for the Nov. 3 general election in anticipation of social distancing and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that will make in-person voting more challenging.

The bill requires Illinois’ local election offices, by Aug. 1, to mail or email vote-by-mail ballot applications to any voter who cast a ballot in 2018, 2019 or 2020, as well as voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary.

Bill proponents estimate 4.8 million people will receive applications. The bill also states that by Sept. 15, the secretary of state must send a notice to people who received an application but have not yet returned it.

Completed ballots would be returned via mail or in new “collection sites,” that would consist of boxes placed in locations at the discretion of local election officials.

As for voting in person, the bill would allow local election authorities to implement curbside voting, in which voters can drive up, be handed a ballot and fill it out in their cars.

SB 1863 would also expands the existing Election Day a state holiday for state employees to include public schools and universities, but only for the 2020 election.

The collection site and curbside provisions are optional for local clerks. They would also have the option to facilitate early-voting hours for people with certain health conditions.

Among the issues that Republican senators raised to state Sen. Julie Morrison D-Lake Forest, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, were costs, input from county clerks, the security of collection sites and ballot applications being sent automatically and in some cases by email.

The Illinois State Board of Elections filed a fiscal note saying that if the bill’s provisions are fully implemented by every local election authority, it would eat up every dollar of the more than $16.7 million the state will receive from the federal CARES Act for elections.

House sponsor Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, however, said during floor debate on Thursday, May 21, that ISBE’s estimate is “extremely generous” because she does not expect every election office to implement every provision.

Pritzker threw his support behind SB 1863 on Thursday, May 21, saying during his daily briefing that it balances voting access with available resources.

“I’m very much in favor of making sure that everybody gets a ballot who is eligible to vote and then returns that ballot,” he said.

The measure passed the House of Representatives 72-43 on Thursday evening.

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COVID-19 COMMISSION: A broad-ranging bill creating a limited oversight panel of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan among other measures passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly on Saturday night, May 23, after its two most controversial provisions were removed in the House.

The removed measures would have temporarily delayed Freedom of Information Act law requirements and allowed the General Assembly to meet remotely during a pandemic.

Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, sponsored Senate Bill 2135, which passed the House by a 66-44 vote shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday. It failed by one vote hours earlier before the controversial measures were removed. The measure was passed by the Senate, 36-19 on partisan lines, shortly before midnight and needs only a signature by the governor to become law.

The measure as passed would create a Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission to “participate in and provide input on plans to revive the various sectors of the state's economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Restore Illinois is Gov. JB Pritzker’s five-phase plan to reopen the state’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Republicans have long been asking for more legislative input on the plan.

But Republicans called the commission as written in the bill “window dressing” that wouldn’t give lawmakers input in the reopening process.

“I am certainly interested in further collaboration with the governor, I think that’s important,” Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said during a lengthy floor debate. “But I think it is an abdication of our duty as a Legislature to leave this special session with only creating a collaborative commission or what would essentially be a task force for recommendations.”

In the Senate, Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said the measure fell “wildly short” of actual oversight of the governor and his wide-reaching executive orders.

Per the bill, the commission would consist of appointed lawmakers in collaboration with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which “may request meetings be convened to address revitalization efforts for the various sectors of the state's economy.”

Those meetings may include public participation as determined by the commission.

DCEO would also be required to provide monthly reports to the General Assembly and members of the commission regarding “current and proposed” revitalization efforts. The first report would be due July 1 and include “applicable metrics that demonstrate progress on recovery efforts” and any other information requested by the commission.

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CHICAGO CASINO: The General Assembly on Saturday, May 23, approved adjustments to the tax framework of an expected Chicago casino because its success benefits the whole state, lawmakers from both parties said.

The bill, approved by the House on Saturday afternoon and by the Senate later in the night, advances to Gov. JB Pritzker, who is a supporter of the measure and told reporters Thursday he “encouraged” representatives and senators to ensure the bill’s success.

Legislators approved a comprehensive gambling expansion last spring. But a feasibility study performed that summer concluded a Chicago casino would not be viable under the tax structure originally passed.

Changes were meant to “make this work for Chicago,” House sponsor Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, said on the floor before the vote.

They also were designed to bring jobs to and stimulate the economy for the rest of Illinois through the “historic” capital infrastructure law also passed last year, Democratic Rep. Jay Hoffman, of Swansea, said.

Under the gambling expansion bill enacted last year, lawmakers authorized six more land-based casinos, including one in Chicago. However, according to the bill, in addition to the taxes and fees that all casinos pay, the Chicago casino would be required to pay an additional 33.3 percent “privilege tax.”

That would bring the effective tax rate on a Chicago casino to roughly 72 percent, the report stated.

The tax structure would now be graduated — the more money a casino makes, the more it will have to pay in city and state taxes.

For example, if the casino makes up to $25 million from table games, it would owe 15 percent in taxes — 8.1 percent to Illinois and 6.9 percent to the city. If the casino makes more than $325 million, it would owe 35 percent in taxes — 18.9 percent to the state and 16.1 percent to Chicago.

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COCKTAILS TO GO: A measure allowing bars and restaurants to serve cocktails to go passed both chambers of the General Assembly Saturday, May 23, meaning it needs only a signature from Gov. JB Pritzker to become law.

State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said in a news release the bill is aimed at bringing “much needed” relief to bars and restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a floor debate, she added that 300,000 of the 580,000 people employed in the hospitality industry in Illinois are currently jobless as indoor dining is still not allowed under the state’s stay-at-home order.

Per the bill, bars and restaurants would be allowed to sell pre-mixed cocktails or other mixed drinks for delivery and curbside pickup, provided they are in tamper-proof sealed containers. Drivers would be required to store mixed drinks in a trunk or other inaccessible compartment.

The cocktails-to-go measure would be repealed one year after the effective date of the bill, which would be whenever the governor signs it.

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PROTECTING RETAIL WORKERS: Measures addressing aggravated battery of retail workers, disability leave for public employees and unionization of employees in the horse racing industry found their way into a COVID-19-response bill this week at the Capitol.

The aggravated battery language in Senate Bill 471 was a subject of heated debate in the House on Friday, May 22, which often turned into a philosophical discussion as to whether “penalty enhancements” were worthy public policy.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, who sponsored the bill, claimed that “penalty enhancement” was not the correct characterization of the measure, because “the individual action that would be a crime doesn’t exist. You can’t enhance something that didn’t exist previously.”

Strictly speaking, the bill amends the “aggravated battery” section of law by adding the crime of assaulting or battering a retail worker who is fulfilling duties such as relaying health care or safety regulations from an employer or public health agencies.

Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, said a person striking a retail worker would already be guilty of a crime, so the measure is indeed an enhancement of the charge that would have been filed. She opposed such an enhancement and triggered a heated response from Hoffman, who shouted at her to “vote no” on the measure if she didn’t agree with it.

In the Senate on Saturday, May 23, Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said the measure could be reexamined by lawmakers in the fall veto session to make any necessary changes.

SB 471 passed with a 95-10 vote in the House. The bill passed 47-3 in the Senate.

The bill will need only a signature from Gov. JB Pritzker to become law, and it would take effect immediately when signed.

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PROTECTING PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: Another portion of the bill extended a one-year recovery period by 60 days for eligible public employees who are recovering from an on-the-job injury and their recovery is hindered, directly or indirectly, by COVID-19.

In House debate, Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said that measure was spurred by firefighters who were injured in the line of work but unable to get the necessary treatment to move along in their recovery because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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PROTECTING HORSE TRACK EMPLOYEES: Also per the bill, employees of a horse track that intends to become a combined track-casino, known as a “racino,” would be entitled, under the state’s new gambling expansion law, to receive information about forming a union if the track is to receive a state license.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said Friday because horse racing is considered to be under the agriculture industry, track employees would otherwise not have certain collective bargaining rights. The measure, he said, was intended to give track employees access to rights available under the National Labor Relations Act.

“The intention is to give them rights, the right to organize, and get the information so that they could possibly organize and let them make that determination,” he said.

Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, questioned some of the language in the bill, and Hoffman clarified that, per his legislative intent, the majority of the employees would have to choose to unionize in order for certain provisions to kick in.

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REOPENING PLAN: On just the third day of legislative session since March 5, Senate Republicans called a socially distanced outdoor news conference Friday, May 22, to argue for a more collaborative approach to state government and pandemic response going forward.

“This discussion needs to go beyond 2:30 in the afternoon press conferences,” Sen. Minority Leader Bill Brady said outside the Capitol, referencing the daily COVID-19 news briefings held by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Brady, of Bloomington, said the briefings are useful in informing the state, but the General Assembly needs to have a more prominent role than just a 3-day legislative session when it comes to restarting the state’s economy.

“And we have a duty and an obligation to represent the people, and we're calling on the General Assembly, its leaders and the governor to provide that venue, so that we can make collective decisions about how we reengage Illinois’ economy in a safe way for its citizens and the people we represent,” he added.

Brady was accompanied by members of his Senate Republican caucus on the Capitol grounds, all of them masked and at arms’ length from each other.

While Pritzker has frequently said he remains in consultation with Republican lawmakers and elected officials across the state, Brady said that’s not the proper avenue for legislative deliberation.

“I talked to the governor yesterday. I talked to him a couple times,” he said. “He listens. And then he goes with his experts and he does what he wants. That's not a debate. That's not a discussion like we're used to and the people expect us to have.”

Pritzker said he disagreed with the leader’s comments during his news briefing later in the day.

“Bill knows better,” Pritzker said when asked about the comments. “The truth is that I've talked to many, many Republican legislators, you've seen changes that I've made along the way. Many of them have been recommended by Republican legislators. And as to staying in town, look again they are co-equal branch, the Legislature has the ability to do that.”

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GRADUATED TAX LANGUAGE: The language of the graduated income tax ballot measure is finalized after the House joined the Senate in approving it Friday, May 22.

It will read: “The proposed amendment grants the State authority to impose higher income tax rates on higher income levels, which is how the federal government and a majority of other states do it. The amendment would remove the portion of the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution that is sometimes referred to as the "flat tax," that requires all taxes on income to be at the same rate. The amendment does not itself change tax rates. It gives the State the ability to impose higher tax rates on those with higher income levels and lower income tax rates on those with middle or lower income levels. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become a part of the Illinois Constitution.”

During debate in the House, Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, argued that Democrats, by noting the graduated structure is “how the federal government and a majority of other states do it,” are essentially including an argument for the measure in what should be an unbiased description.

Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat, argued that the statement is factual.

The text for a pamphlet which will, by law, be sent to “every mailing address in the state, addressed to the attention of the postal patron,” was also finalized. That pamphlet will contain the description of the measure, as well as arguments for and arguments against.

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REOPENING DAY CARE CENTERS: All of the state’s 5,000-plus child care providers not in operation will be advised to reopen Friday, May 29, provided the state’s four regions under Gov. JB Pritzker’s reopening plan continue to progress toward the third phase of the plan by that date.

Providers that have been closed must develop a reopening plan that ensures they have revised operational and preparedness policies in place before opening, the governor said. All providers will be expected to resume compliance with all licensing standards related to curriculum, learning environment and staff qualifications.

All four regions in Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan are on pace to enter Phase 3 next week.

“We can't have a conversation about going back to work without talking about childcare,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing from his Capitol office Friday. “If we don't have child care, a large portion of the workforce, especially women, who too often bear a disproportionate burden, will be without any way to move forward without caring for their child themselves.”

Pritzker said for the first four weeks that they're open, providers will be able to serve up to 10 children per classroom.

“Once they have provided care safely for four weeks and have gotten accustomed to the new health, social distancing and sanitation routines, they will be able to expand to larger group sizes, though not yet at their fully licensed capacity,” he said.

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STAY-AT-HOME LEGISLATION: Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, May 22, said he was looking for help from the General Assembly in terms of enforcing the stay-at-home order.

Pritzker’s administration withdrew an emergency rule this month that would have allowed for the filing of Class A misdemeanor charges against those who disregard his stay-at-home order amid opposition from lawmakers in a key committee. He said Friday he would be disappointed if lawmakers did not approve a measure to allow for lesser fines without misdemeanor charges if a business ignores his order.

He said the General Assembly “does not appear to want to raise and hold a vote on” such a measure.

“I mean the Legislature has been asking for months and months, they've wanted to come together, because they consider themselves, and they are, a co-equal branch of government, along with the judiciary branch and the executive branch,” he said. “And it is their obligation, frankly, to do their duty. They don't seem to want to help in any way, dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, by offering us the ability to use a small enforcement mechanism that we've asked for.”

Lawmakers did not take any such legislation before adjourning until the fall veto session, which begins Tuesday, Nov. 17.

there are many big hurdles to getting a recall question to voters.

First, 30 legislators — 20 representatives and 10 senators, half from each party — must sign an affidavit supporting the motion to remove a governor from office. Once officials from the State Board of Elections certify that notice to circulate a petition, voters may weigh in with their signature.

At least 636,825 residents — or, 15 percent of the votes cast in the gubernatorial election — have 150 days to sign the petition for it to be successful. There also must be at least 25 counties with 100 signatures among those on the petition.

If those requirements are met, a special election on whether to recall the governor must be held within 100 days of the petitions’ certification. A special election with candidates from “established” political parties — currently, only Democrats and Republicans — would also occur concurrently.

The Constitution provides that once a governor survives a recall vote, there may not be another challenge during “the remainder of the current term of office.”

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RECALL EFFORT: An Illinois lawmaker dissatisfied with Gov. JB Pritzker’s handling of the large number of COVID-19-related unemployment claims is calling on his colleagues to support an effort to remove the governor from office.

Republican Rep. Allen Skillicorn, of Crystal Lake, said lack of staffing at the Illinois Department of Employment Security and its website’s disclosure of sensitive information is evidence of Pritzker’s “continued inaction.”

After issuing a news release notifying residents of his initiative, Skillicorn told reporters in a video news conference Tuesday, May 26,  he “would actually prefer to avoid coverage.”

“This is a nonpartisan issue. This is about the people of Illinois,” he said. “This is not my voice, it’s the voice of over 1 million people in Illinois that are now unemployed. …  It’s not about me. It’s not about my party.”

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DATA BREACH: The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced Friday, May 22, it will notify 32,483 claimants whose personal information might have been viewed because of a “glitch” in the newly-launched Pandemic Unemployment Assistance portal.

In a news release, IDES said it worked to fix the “glitch” with Deloitte, the outside firm contracted to launch the PUA system created under federal law to give benefits to independent contractors and those who are self-employed.

IDES said the personal information of some of the 32,000-plus claimants “may have been unintentionally viewed by a single claimant.”

“The claimant immediately reported the issue within the PUA system. Computer records confirm that no other individuals viewed claimant information, which could have included names, Social Security numbers, and street addresses associated with PUA claims,” IDES said in the news release. “Based on the department’s investigation, it is believed that the claimant unintentionally viewed the information of a handful of other claimants and there is no indication that any personal information was, or will be, improperly used.”

The department will notify the claimants possibly affected “out of an abundance of caution.”

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WORKERS' COMP BILL: A compromise bill between business and labor which deals with COVID-19 and workers’ compensation passed the House on Friday, May 22, with broad bipartisan support and will head to the governor.

House Bill 2455 was carried by Democrats Linda Holmes of Aurora in the Senate and Jay Hoffman of Swansea in the House. Much of the floor debate on the measure centered on the bipartisan negotiations which included business and labor interests.

Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, echoed that sentiment after brief questioning Thursday.

Among other things, the “labor omnibus bill” created, for the purpose of death benefits, a rebuttable presumption that a police officer or firefighter who dies as a result of COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job.

The officer or firefighter must have contracted the virus between March 9 and Dec. 31, 2020.

The bill also ensures Illinois continues to qualify for federal relief by extending unemployment benefits, waiving a one-week unemployment insurance waiting period and expanding eligibility for unemployment to non-instructional education employees, such as lunch workers and teachers’ aides, according to a news release from Holmes. 

According to the bill, employers would not be charged for unemployment benefits issued between March 15 and Dec. 31 that were paid to those out of work due to COVID-19.

The legislation also creates a “rebuttable presumption” that a first-responder or essential worker who contracts COVID-19 did so in the course of their employment. Employers, however, would have avenues to rebut the worker’s claim.

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BAILEY LAWSUIT: A Republican representative gained an ally in his lawsuit challenging Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s authority to issue successive disaster proclamations.

The U.S. attorney general’s office asked a federal court to undo the state’s Thursday, May 21, venue change in Xenia Rep. Darren Bailey’s case from downstate Clay County to the federal district courthouse in East St. Louis. Or, if the court declines to do that, federal authorities urged it to rule in favor of Bailey.

Hours before the attorneys were due to respond to Bailey’s request for Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney to rule on his case, and one day before a hearing was set, the Illinois attorney general’s office moved the case.

Thomas Verticchio, senior attorney general, wrote in the office’s notice that Bailey alleged Pritzker’s stay-at-home and disaster proclamations violated his rights to religion, due process, interstate travel and “a Republican form of government” which are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Bailey’s attorneys called that action an effort to “judge shop.”

Five U.S. lawyers wrote in a 21-page filing Friday, May 22, that the federal government does not “typically” get involved in cases challenging abuse of state law. But Bailey’s representatives, they continued, argued “a strong case” that Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders overstepped the emergency powers granted to him by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act.

A spokesperson for the Illinois attorney general’s office did not return a request for comment.

Bailey, in a text message, said he is “very pleased” the U.S. attorney general’s office took an interest in his case. He added, “justice is coming.”

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ANOTHER LEGAL CHALLENGE: Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive orders shuttering non-essential businesses and workplaces indefinitely is unconstitutional, three business owners and two county officials claim in a lawsuit filed in federal court, because the state has not provided monetary compensation.

Both the U.S. and Illinois constitutions provide that private property cannot be confiscated for public use “without just compensation.” Illinois’ governing document adds that property also cannot be damaged.

They are asking a judge to order the state to pay all “similarly situated persons, companies and entities ... just compensation.”

Two parties in the lawsuit are George Pearson, the Will County Republican Committee chairman, and Steve Balich, a member of the Will County Board. Both claim the state’s restrictions “deprived” them of income.

Pearson claims he cannot perform his duties to nominate candidates for the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Balich claims he cannot “effectively represent his constituents” or run for reelection.

And two business owners — Samantha Palya, proprietor of Absolutely Pawfect Pet Styling in Cook County, and Amanda Hamerman, owner of Color Envy in DuPage County — claim the closure of their shops caused lost revenue. Michael Judge, owner of Judge Automotive in Cook County, alleges the stay-at-home restriction caused fewer people to travel and thus need their cars repaired.

The lawsuit was filed May 13 by attorneys with Mokena-based Bruggeman, Hurst & Associates. The state has not yet responded to the residents’ arguments and no hearings have been scheduled.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.