SPRINGFIELD — Gov. JB Pritzker signed a criminal justice omnibus bill backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Monday, Feb. 22, abolishing cash bail, overhauling police certification and reforming use-of-force standards among numerous other provisions.
Pritzker signed the legislation, House Bill 3653, during an event at Chicago State University alongside members of his administration and lawmakers from the Black Caucus.
“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation, and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Pritzker said.
While the legislation received grassroots support from activists, buoyed by the growing national concern over policing following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year, the bill faced strong opposition from Republican lawmakers and law enforcement groups.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, called the signing “an insult to our first responders.”
“We live in a civilized state where our elected officials’ greatest responsibility is the health and safety of Illinois citizens… At a crucial time when we should coalesce around the good men and women of law enforcement, Gov. Pritzker has turned his back on them with his signature on House Bill 3653,” Durkin said in a statement released Monday.
Opponents of the legislation have said it will result in a less safe Illinois and have criticized the process behind its development as lacking in transparency without proper input from Republican lawmakers and the public at large.
Proponents say HB 3653 will make Illinois safer by making the justice system more equitable for Black, Latino, low-income and minority communities that have been disproportionately harmed by disparate policies in sentencing, incarceration and policing.
Members of the Black Caucus have countered claims against the bill’s transparency by pointing to nine subject matter hearings held by the caucus in state Senate committees between September and November. For nearly 30 hours, lawmakers from both parties, law enforcement, judges, state’s attorneys, legal experts, representatives of the court, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office hashed out many of the issues that became provisions in the bill.
The office of the governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul held working meetings over several months starting in July with many of the same groups.
The bill was introduced early in a five-day lame duck session last month, and the final version of the bill was introduced after midnight on the final day of the lame-duck session, when it received just enough votes to pass both chambers with less-than-an-hour of floor-debate.
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HEMP PRODUCTION: Industrial hemp production declined slightly in 2020, the second year of legalized production in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that 2,392 acres of industrial hemp, or 87 percent of the acres planted, were harvested during the year. That was down from just over 2,800 acres in 2019.
That translated into just under 1.3 million pounds of hemp flower, 48,000 pounds of hemp fiber, 39,000 pounds of seed and 8,500 pounds of hemp grain.
“The hemp industry, just like many others was hit by the pandemic,” David Lakeman, manager of IDOA’s Division of Cannabis, said in a statement. “Workforce safety challenges, pandemic-related impacts on the market, and some initial issues with processing all contributed to a more difficult year for the hemp industry.”
Hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains only a small fraction of the psychoactive substance THC found in marijuana. It was a major crop in the U.S. until 1937 when Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which imposed a heavy tax on anyone who dealt commercially in hemp or marijuana.
The fiber can be used in textiles, food and a wide range of other industrial purposes. But in recent years it has become more popular as a source of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, which can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions.
Although it is now legal, production of the crop is still highly regulated. Growers and processors must be licensed by IDOA. The agency also inspects crops to make sure they do not exceed the 0.3 percent THC limit. Hemp testing above that amount is eligible for a retest, but hemp that tests above 0.7 percent THC must be destroyed.
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BAILEY TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR: Illinois Sen. Darren Bailey, who gained notoriety for challenging Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders last year, announced Monday, Feb. 22, that he will seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2022.
Speaking before a crowd of supporters at the Thelma Keller Convention Center in Effingham Monday night, Bailey cast himself as an outsider candidate who would stand up to who he referred to as “political elites”.
Bailey, a downstate Republican from Xenia, filed a lawsuit against the Pritzker administration in May challenging the governor’s executive orders issued amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Pritzker referred to the suit as “a cheap political stunt” at the time. Bailey received a favorable ruling in that case from a judge in Clay County that was later thrown out by a Sangamon County judge.
Bailey was elected as a state representative in 2018 before winning election as state senator for the 55th District in November. During the General Assembly’s abbreviated session last spring, Bailey was removed from the house floor at the Bank of Springfield Center for refusing to wear a mask. In subsequent session days he obeyed the mask mandates and was not removed.
Since then, Bailey has toured the state and held rallies calling on Pritzker to lift restrictions on businesses and raising other issues.
According to his campaign website, Bailey is a third-generation farmer and a graduate of Lake Land College. Bailey and his family co-founded Full Armor Christian Academy, and Bailey served for 17 years on the North Clay Unit 25 Board of Education in Louisville before his election to the General Assembly in 2018.
“We've been used, we've been mocked, we've been marginalized,” Bailey said at a campaign rally Monday. “People in Illinois have been ignored based on their race, they've been ignored based on their class, their zip code, or by special interests.”
Bailey also offered criticisms for the Republican Party, saying, “Republicans and Democrats have worried more about the donor class than they've worried about the working class, and friends, that ends now.”
Bailey touted a campaign platform based on strict fiscal conservatism, calling for “a budget that freezes spending with no tax increases.”
Pritzker responded to Bailey’s criticisms in an unrelated Tuesday news conference, saying that outmigration from the state has been a problem since before he took office, and that he has been working on creating programs to encourage students and workers to remain in Illinois.
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NEW UTILITY LOANS: Gov. JB Pritzker announced a low-interest loan program Tuesday, Feb. 23, to help alleviate the unprecedented financial burden from soaring utility costs for certain Illinois municipalities and their residents.
The extreme weather that devastated Texas’ electrical grid last week has resulted in skyrocketing natural gas prices in Illinois directly linked to frozen natural gas wells in Texas and Oklahoma.
The energy pricing surges have specifically impacted central and southern Illinois communities, including Pawnee and Roodhouse, which rely on the Panhandle Pipeline for natural gas for everyday energy use.
This particular pipeline, which originates in Texas and Oklahoma, runs through Kansas and Missouri across central Illinois to parts of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
The average cost of natural gas in the winter months is between $2-$3 per dekatherm, but impacted municipalities saw utility bills up to $225 per dekatherm from Feb. 13 to Feb. 16 when Texas was facing extreme weather conditions, according to the governor’s office.
At Pritzker’s request, the Illinois Finance Authority has developed a low-interest $15 million loan program for communities impacted by record-high utility costs. The money would go directly to the municipalities, but the specifics of interest rates and terms are set to be discussed Thursday in a special meeting with the IFA board. Viele said she expects the interest rate to be low with a timeframe of a couple years for repayment.
Pritzker’s Deputy Press Secretary Jose Sanchez Molina said an estimated 40 to 50 municipalities who have been affected by the pipeline will be included in the loan program.
Pritzker said that’s the purpose of the loan program – to avoid an overwhelming financial burden in the hopes that further federal assistance for the communities will be on the way. Pritzker also said accountability could come from a recently launched federal investigation of the gas price spikes. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, has called for such an investigation at the federal level.
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FOOD FOR CHILDREN: Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday, Feb. 23, announced new federal funding to expand the state’s food assistance program for school-age children who would normally receive free or reduced-price meals.
Pritzker said the additional funds to the existing Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer Program will help feed 200,000 more children, for a total of about one million children who will receive assistance this school year compared to about 764,000 children who received P-EBT benefits the previous school year.
Unlike last school year, families will not need to apply to receive P-EBT but will automatically be enrolled if their child or children already qualify for free or reduced lunch, Pritzker said.
P-EBT benefits will be mailed out to families in a debit card starting next month, and families will receive one card per eligible child. According to the governor’s office, families will receive $6.82 for each day the child did not have access to school meals, an increased from $5.70 for the previous school year.
Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou said the debit cards can be used at grocery stores that indicate they accept state and federal welfare benefits. But they cannot be used at restaurants, including fast food places.
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MADIGAN RESIGNS PARTY CHAIRMANSHIP: Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan announced Monday, Feb. 22, that he is resigning as chairman of the state Democratic Party, a post he has held since 1998.
The announcement came just days after Madigan resigned his seat in the House after a 50-year career in the General Assembly.
“Over the last two decades, we have elected a diverse array of Democrats across Illinois and helped send a hometown Chicago leader to the White House, turning Illinois into a Democratic stronghold in the Midwest,” Madigan said in a statement late Monday afternoon. “Together, we faced conservative extremism and stood up for working men and women. I’m confident the Democratic Party of Illinois will continue to cement our place as a beacon of progressive values.
“My work would not have been possible without the support of my family, Shirley, Lisa, Tiffany, Nicole and Andrew. I thank each of them for their unwavering love and support that has allowed me to do this work for so long.”
Madigan, 78, resigned his House seat Thursday, a month after he failed to win another term as speaker. He had served as the top officer in the House for all but two years since 1983.
Madigan’s resignation from the party chairmanship was effective immediately. His four-year term as a state central committeeman is scheduled to end following the March primary in 2022. According to a press release, Vice Chairwoman Karen Yarbrough will serve as interim chairwoman until the 36 members of the state central committee meet within the next 30 days to elect a new chairperson to serve out the remainder of Madigan’s term.
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MADIGAN SUCCESSOR RESIGNS: Edward Guerra Kodatt, who was appointed Sunday to replace Former Speaker Michael Madigan, resigned abruptly Wednesday after Madigan and Chicago Ald. Marty Quinn issued a statement Tuesday night urging Kodatt to step down in light of unspecified “alleged questionable conduct.”
Madigan announced Wednesday he would back Angelica Guerrero Cuellar, the candidate who received the second-highest number of votes on Sunday.
Vacancies in the 22nd House District are filled by vote of the Democratic committee persons who represent the wards within the House District, which include the 13th, 14th, 18th and 23rd wards and Stickney Township. The votes are weighted by population, and Madigan’s vote guaranteed Kodatt’s appointment, as his ward includes more than half of the district’s population. Since Madigan has more than 50 percent of that weighted vote, whoever he backs would have enough votes to be seated to the House.
Kodatt, 26, is listed as a former member of the House of Representatives on the Illinois General Assembly’s website.
The Tuesday statement from Quinn, who represents Chicago’s 13th Ward, and Madigan does not elaborate on the details of the “questionable conduct.”
“After learning of alleged questionable conduct by Mr. Kodatt, it was suggested that he resign as state representative for the 22nd District. We are committed to a zero-tolerance policy in the workplace,” they said in the statement.
In a statement issued Wednesday through his spokesperson, Madigan said the committee will meet again on Thursday to select “a replacement for the 22nd District Illinois House seat from the pool of candidates who already presented to the selection committee.”
“I believe the most equitable way to proceed is to nominate the candidate who received the second-highest vote count. It is my intention to nominate Angelica Guerrero Cuellar,” he said in the statement.
Ald. Silvana Tabares, of the 23rd Ward, has the second highest weighted vote, and voted for Guerrero Cuellar, who works with a nonprofit community service organization in Chicago.
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VACCINE UPDATE: Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday, Feb. 24, the state expects to be receiving up to 100,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine daily by mid-March, up from the approximately 60,000 it is currently receiving on average.
That’s counting only the already-approved Moderna and Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines, and is not including a potential dosage spike that is expected occur if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves a Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.
The FDA released an analysis Wednesday showing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has met the requirements for Emergency Use Authorization, which is the same approval given to the two existing vaccines. The analysis showed the vaccine is 66 percent effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 globally, and an FDA panel is scheduled to meet Friday to consider recommending authorization.
The 100,000 daily doses expected by mid-March could be increased by 20 percent with approval of the new vaccine, Pritzker said.
Peoria County Public Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson said the 66 percent effectiveness rate is less than the roughly 95 percent rate seen with the first two vaccines, but it’s still more effective than the seasonal flu vaccine, which hits roughly 40-60 percent depending on the year. The Johnson & Johnson shot is also a one-dose vaccine, unlike the two existing vaccines, which require two doses.
On Tuesday, the state reported 55,947 doses of the vaccine administered, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 58,141. About 4.9 percent of the state’s population has received two doses of the vaccine, which over 14 percent had received at least one dose, according to a database maintained by the New York Times.
That database showed the state was 20th of all the 50 states in first doses given per capita, yet 49th for those having received two doses. Pritzker attributed that to the state’s delay in opening up the vaccination effort to Phase 1B, noting officials intentionally remained in Phased 1A an extra week in what he said was an effort to ensure all health care workers received their first shot.
Health departments are now receiving a majority of second doses, he said.
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COVID-19 UPDATE: Hospitalizations and positivity rates for COVID-19 in Illinois continued on a steady decline Tuesday, Feb. 23, decreasing for the 13th straight week.
On a weekly average basis, hospitalizations declined sharply once again for the period from Monday, Feb. 15 to Sunday, Feb. 21. For that period, the state saw an average 1,603 hospital beds in use for COVID-19 per day, a decrease of 329, or 17 percent, from the one-week period prior.
The number of COVID-19 patients using ICU beds decreased by 14 percent, or 62, from the week prior, to 371 in use on average each day for the same period. Ventilators use for COVID-19 also decreased by roughly 17 percent, with 177 in use on average for the period.
Virus transmission rates continued to slow Wednesday, Feb. 24, as the rolling seven-day average case positivity rate hit 2.6 percent, a low since July 9. The state reported 2,022 new confirmed or probable cases among 82,976 test results reported over the previous 24 hours.
As of Tuesday night, there were 1,511 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, including 338 in intensive care unit beds and 172 on ventilators. Those numbers continued on a relative downward trend.
The state also reported another 44 virus-related deaths Wednesday, bringing the total to 20,374 since the pandemic began. The state has logged more than 1.1 million cases out of 17.8 million test results reported since the pandemic began.
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.