CAPITOL RECAP: GOP, backed by congressman, again calls for redistricting commission

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis joined his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly Monday in calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to support legislation to form an independent commission to redraw congressional and state legislative district maps.

Both the U.S. and Illinois constitutions require that district maps be redrawn every 10 years to ensure equal representation. The Illinois Constitution requires it to be done in the year following the decennial census.

The state constitution also requires that the General Assembly complete its work by June 30. After that, the process is handed over to an eight-member bipartisan commission and, if that body fails to approve new maps by Aug. 10, a ninth member is appointed by random selection to give one party or the other a 5-4 majority.

That’s the process that has been used in four of the last five redistricting efforts. Only in 2011 did the General Assembly complete the process before the June 30 deadline.

But Republicans this year have proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1325, that would authorize the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint a 16-member commission made up of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents.

The plan is similar to a proposed constitutional amendment that voters petitioned to have placed on the November 2016 ballot but which the state Supreme Court rejected on technical grounds.

The idea of an independent redistricting commission has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. In fact, Monday’s news conference featured a large poster board with a quote from then-candidate JB Pritzker, who supported an independent commission in the 2018 campaign.

In 2019, Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, proposed a constitutional amendment that many believe would have passed Supreme Court scrutiny. That measure had 36 cosponsors, including 17 Democrats, but it was never assigned to a substantive committee and it died at the end of the 2020 session.

Republicans argue that legislative maps have been drawn intentionally to favor Democrats, and they have alleged that Democrats have a disproportionate advantage in the General Assembly because of it.

Democrats, however, have argued that the maps also ensure that racial and ethnic minorities are fairly represented, and they have accused Republicans of trying to break up those voting groups, who traditionally vote Democratic.

Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said after a hearing Monday that she does not know whether the idea of an independent commission is dead for this year.

“It’s a continuing conversation,” she said, noting she hasn’t spoken to Pritzker or House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch about it. “I can’t tell you, until really once we’re finalized with all the testimony, what direction this will take.”

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TOURISM RECOVERY: Leaders from the state’s tourism and hospitality industry asked legislators for additional support and reopening guidance during a Thursday, April 8, committee hearing as the state plans next steps for its COVID-19 economic recovery.

Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, told the House Tourism Committee Thursday that hotels have “been among the hardest hit” segment of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the industry may not see a full recovery until 2024 at the earliest.

Jacobson said Illinois hotels suffered a loss of $3.5 billion in revenue and that over 21,000 hotel employees were laid off as a result of the pandemic over the past year.

Jacobson told legislators that allowing events and gatherings to resume in a safe manner as soon as possible and directing federal support dollars to hotels and businesses most impacted by the pandemic would be key to revitalizing that segment of the economy, which generates billions of dollars in revenue for the state every year.

Jacobson and industry leaders also said passing limited COVID-19 liability protections for businesses would help hotels and businesses to work toward a full recovery.

Rob Karr, President and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said additional guidance from the state on reopening guidelines would be needed in order for struggling businesses to get back on their feet.

Under guidelines set forth in the state’s bridge phase, vaccinated individuals would not count against a business or venue’s capacity restrictions, but Karr questioned how businesses or local authorities would be able to enforce those restrictions.

Jacobson told the committee that a possible alternative would be to base capacity guidelines and mitigations on hospitalization utilization rather than case positivity as more of the state’s population is vaccinated.

Derek Blaida, representing the Illinois Restaurant Association, shared similar concerns, noting 20 percent of Illinois restaurants are expected to close permanently and that over 124,000 food service jobs have been lost as a result of the pandemic.

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COVID-19 UPDATE: Over the past seven days, 132,188 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered daily on average in Illinois as of Monday, an increase of more than 27,000 from the daily average one week ago.

That average was driven upward by a one-day record of 175,681 doses administered Friday, the third day in a row the record was broken.

Over 22 percent of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as more than 7.2 million vaccine doses had been administered as of Monday.

All Illinoisans over the age of 16 may now be vaccinated, although Chicago vaccination sites are planning on expanding eligibility next week. More information about COVID-19 vaccines can be found at coronavirus.illinois.gov, or by calling 1-833-621-1284.

But as the vaccination effort ramps up, the virus positivity rate is increasing as well, and hospitalizations hit a high Sunday that has not been seen since Feb. 9.

There were 1,998 Illinoisans reported hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Sunday night, an increase of more than 160 from the day prior. Over the past seven days, from Monday to Sunday, there were 1,804 hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients each day on average, a 24 percent increase from the one-week period prior.

Intensive care unit beds saw an 18 percent increase from the one-week period prior, with 377 beds in use on average from Monday to Sunday. At the end of Sunday, there were 418 ICU beds in use by COVID-19 patients, a high since Feb. 12. On a seven-day average, only about 24 percent of ICU beds remained open, according to IDPH.

Ventilator use was also increasing as of Sunday night, with 177 in use by COVID-19 patients. The 163 used on average from Monday to Sunday marked an increase of 23 percent from the week prior.

The rolling seven-day average case positivity rate ticked up to 4.4 percent Monday after remaining at about 4.2 percent for four straight days. It’s a 0.6 percentage point increase from one week ago and a 1.1 percentage point increase from two weeks ago.

The COVID-19 death toll has now reached 21,523, with 1.2 million cases confirmed out of more than 21 million tests conducted.

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LAWMAKER PAY LAWSUIT: Two former Illinois state senators have a “clear right” to receive portions of their legislative salaries that were withheld by Illinois Comptroller Mendoza and her predecessors, a Cook County judge decided last week.

But Mendoza said she intends to appeal the ruling, meaning this latest development is likely not the last word in the case brought by former Democratic Sens. Michael Noland, from Elgin, and James Clayborne Jr., from Belleville.

Judge Allen Walker’s decision found that Noland and Clayborne are entitled to the salaries that were withheld when the legislature passed laws to freeze cost-of-living increases and implement furlough days.

The ruling issued Thursday is a victory for Noland and Clayborne, who sued the state comptroller over unpaid wages resulting from those laws, which were passed between 2009 and 2017. Noland first sued in June 2017 and Clayborne was added to the lawsuit in May 2018.

On July 1, 2019, lawmakers’ base salaries increased to $69,464. Before that latest increase, the base salary was unchanged at $67,836 since 2008.

Noland was a member of the Senate from 2007 to January 2017, and Clayborne was a member from 1995 to January 2019. Noland is now a judge in Kane County, and Clayborne is a partner at Clayborne & Wagner LLP in Belleville.

Mendoza noted that Noland and Clayborne voted in favor of the laws to forgo pay increases prior to challenging their legality in court.  

“Now that they are out of office, these shameless grifters want the courts to reverse their votes, reaching into taxpayers’ pockets to give them those retroactive raises,” Mendoza’s statement read.

Although Walker found Noland and Clayborne can seek their withheld salary, he ruled that this finding does not apply to all members of the Illinois General Assembly whose salaries were withheld.

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PRISON LAWSUITS: The Illinois Department of Corrections also announced Monday, April 12, that they would be opening facilities to in-person visits for the first time since March 14 last year.

The East Moline Correctional Center opened to visits Monday, as the IDOC website reported there were three inmates and two staff members currently positive for the virus at the facility.

Across the prison system, 87 staff members and 31 inmates were reported as current positive COVID-19 cases as of Monday. Since the pandemic began, 4,365 staff had tested positive, along with 10,859 inmates.

Visitations for the rest of the state’s correctional centers will begin in the coming weeks.

On April 19, visits will open at Graham, Taylorville, Jacksonville, Dixon, Centralia and Stateville correctional centers; Stateville Northern Reception Center; Elgin Treatment Center; and Fox Valley, Crossroads and North Lawndale adult transition centers.

On April 26, Pinckneyville, Sheridan, Big Muddy River, Pontiac, Shawnee, Vienna, Hill, Lawrence, Illinois River, Robinson and Vandalia correctional centers will open for visits. So will Joliet Treatment Center, Peoria Adult Transition Center, and Kewanee and Murphysboro life skills re-entry centers.

On May 3, visits will reopen at Southwestern Illinois, Decatur, Logan, Lincoln, Western Illinois, Danville and Menard correctional centers.

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INTERVIEW WITH THE TREASURER: What role does the treasurer play in state government?

It depends on the state, but in Illinois, the treasurer’s role differs greatly from the state comptroller, who handles the check-writing as the state’s chief fiscal officer.

The treasurer, on the other hand, serves as the chief investment and banking officer in Illinois. According to the Illinois Constitution, “The Treasurer, in accordance with law, shall be responsible for the safekeeping and investment of monies and securities deposited with him, and for their disbursement upon order of the Comptroller.”

The current treasurer is Michael Frerichs, who first was elected in 2014 as a Champaign Democrat, defeating Republican Tom Cross by less than 0.5 percent of the vote. He gained reelection in 2018 by nearly 20 percent of the vote.

In a podcast interview with Capitol News Illinois, Frerichs explained his role in state government.

“I'm in charge of investing the state’s money. And that right now is somewhere around $17 billion,” he said. “We also help local units of government and smaller units of government invest in a pooled fund. And that's about $7 billion right now. And then we also help families save for themselves, whether that be for college expenses, or for their retirement through a few different programs.”

Frerichs discussed the state’s investments, his office’s efforts to return unclaimed property to Illinoisans, a program he oversees that helps people save for retirement, and whether he plans to run for reelection in 2022 for the latest edition of Capitol Cast, a regular podcast of Capitol News Illinois.

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INDOOR DINING LAWSUIT: A Kane County restaurant’s legal challenge to Gov. JB Pritzker’s ban on indoor dining can continue, a Sangamon County judge ruled this week.

Attorneys for Pritzker tried to have the lawsuit dismissed but Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow on Wednesday declined to do so. While Grischow decided not to dismiss the case, she did not reach a decision on the merits of their argument.

The lawsuit from FoxFire restaurant in Geneva argues that Pritzker’s executive order requiring bars and restaurants to close indoor service, which first went into effect last October, should not be allowed because it is arbitrary and unreasonable.

Pritzker’s attorneys claimed that the governor had authority to issue his October 2020 executive order under the state Emergency Management Act.

The governor’s lawyers also argued that Illinois residents who seek to challenge Pritzker’s order as beyond the limits of his power can take action at the ballot box, not through the court system.

Grischow disagreed with this claim about the court’s role to intervene in cases where the constitutional limits of the governor’s authority are questioned.

“[I]t is this court that must ensure the governor does not circumvent the constitutional confines of his authority,” Grischow wrote in her five-page opinion. “This court can inquire as to whether the means utilized in the execution of a power granted are forbidden by the constitution.”

Grischow wrote that her court has the responsibility to determine whether the governor’s “implementation of the business shutdowns and/or restrictions were arbitrary and unreasonable.”

Her opinion also recognized that the restaurant “bears a heavy burden to establish that (the governor’s) actions were clearly arbitrary and unreasonable.”

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COURT EVICTION MORATORIUM: The Illinois Supreme Court issued an order this week creating stronger safeguards for tenants seeking rent relief under the governor’s eviction moratorium.

The court’s revised order makes clear that landlords challenging a tenant’s eviction moratorium protections have to state the legal and factual basis for such a challenge, said Chief Judge Eugene G. Doherty, of the 17th Judicial Circuit, which spans Boone and Winnebago counties.

Doherty is vice chair of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Court Operations During COVID-19 Task Force, which was created in June 2020 and makes recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“It was feared by some that (the Supreme Court’s previous order) would effectively allow all the cases that the moratorium is keeping out of court to get back into court because if the landlord were to just file a challenge, vaguely worded, to the declaration, the case is now in court,” Doherty said. “And that seems to undercut the purpose of the moratorium.”

The Illinois Supreme Court issued an order in December 2020 relating to the eviction moratorium that outlines the process for landlords to challenge a tenant’s declaration under the order. It amended the order in February and again on Tuesday.

Gov. JB Pritzker reissued his eviction moratorium executive order last week, extending rent relief to tenants who are unable to pay due to economic hardship caused by the pandemic through May 1.

The governor’s reissued order, released on Friday, contains new language that “the judicial branch has the authority to adopt appropriate procedural measures governing the order’s application in judicial proceedings.”

The Illinois Supreme Court’s latest order states that landlords must identify “with specificity the legal or factual basis…for any such challenge.” It also states directly that the “burden to sustain such a challenge remains at all times with the plaintiff/landlord.”

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COMMUNITY COLLEGE DEGREE: A bill that would allow community colleges to grant bachelor’s degrees for early childhood education is awaiting consideration before the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Senate Bill 1832, sponsored by Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, would give Illinois community colleges the option to apply for accreditation to offer a baccalaureate-level early education program.

Illinois Action for Children held a news conference Wednesday with other advocates to discuss the bill. SB 1832 also addresses an issue of equity, Pacione-Zayas said, considering a majority of child care workers are women, women of color and immigrant refugees.

“They have very little pay, anywhere between $10 to $13 an hour, with very little benefits,” Pacione-Zayas said at the news conference. “So much so that 46 percent of them are eligible for public assistance.”

The proposal would help those in early childhood education meet their educational goals in an affordable and accessible way Pacione-Zayas said, setting them on a pathway to economic stability while supporting the development of young children in the state.

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INFRASTRUCTURE GRANTS: The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced a total of $18.2 million in grants will be awarded to 34 downstate and rural communities facing threats to health and safety because of infrastructure issues.

The Community Development Block Grant program for 2020, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is estimated to benefit around 113,266 Illinois residents by funding water and sewer upgrades and repairs in low-income, rural communities.

The repairs must be made to shared water and sewer infrastructure with the intent of enhancing safety and quality of life for those within the eligible cities and towns.

Last year the program received 50 percent more applications than it did the previous year, which DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia said speaks to the program's necessity.

The village of Tampico received the maximum grant amount of $550,000 which will go toward the rehabilitation of its sanitary sewer system, as well as protective lining for storm sewers and manholes.

Metropolitan areas, such as Chicago, suburban Cook County, the Metro East and Peoria, typically receive a direct allocation of federal funds for these types of projects because they are in “entitlement” areas. Most downstate communities do not receive this funding from the federal government, and typically receive these types of funds through the state.

The block grant program prioritizes projects in rural and underserved communities or opportunity zones, which are economically-distressed communities that may qualify for tax deferment, with 51 percent or more low-to-moderate income residencies.

Some of the other grantees include Canton, Toluca, Verona, Broughton, Elliott and Ottawa.

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BOOSTING VACCINATION EFFORTS: State officials announced Tuesday, April 6, that Illinois would receive $124 million in federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand its statewide vaccination program.

According to a Tuesday news release, $33 million in funding is expected to be directed to the city of Chicago with the rest being used to expand efforts in other parts of the state.

The release noted that approximately 75 percent of the funding would be used to focus on supplying vaccines to underserved communities, including communities of color, rural areas, and regions disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“With this new funding from the Biden-Harris administration, Illinois will move quickly to further expand our aggressive efforts to reach those most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a Tuesday statement.

“With mass vaccination sites across the state, rural vaccination teams reaching those with less access to health care, and partnerships with trusted providers in underserved communities, we have built the infrastructure to end this pandemic as quickly as possible, and these new resources will only help us reach that day even sooner,” Pritzker added.

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RURAL VACCINATION TEAMS: The state also announced Tuesday, April 6, that rapid response vaccination teams and additional resources would be deployed to six more Illinois counties in response to “early warning signs of COVID-19 resurgence.”

According to a Tuesday news release, rapid response vaccination teams will be deployed to Fulton, Tazewell and Woodford counties in central Illinois, with additional vaccine doses being directed to Peoria and McLean counties.

The state announced on Monday that it would also send mobile vaccination teams to Kankakee, Vermilion, Livingston, Coles, DeWitt, and White counties this week. The vaccination teams plan to administer single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines in order to quickly mitigate spread, the release said.

State officials urged added caution in following public health guidelines as the state continues to work to vaccinate residents as quickly as possible.

The announcements come as the state prepares to expand vaccine eligibility to all residents over the age of 16 at the more than 900 state vaccination sites beginning April 12, while the Biden administration announced all American adults would be eligible to receive the vaccine by April 19.

 

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.