Virus Outbreak Illinois Legislature

Illinois State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, right, gets an elbow-bump from Illinois State Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, Saturday after the passing of SB 264, the state budget for the new fiscal year starting in July, with a vote of 68-44 during an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center.

Capitol News Illinois

A major expansion of voting access for the 2020 general election is headed to the desk of Gov. J.B. 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.

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

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 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.

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.”

DCEO also would 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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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