SPRINGFIELD – As global leaders met in Glasgow, Scotland, over the past two weeks to discuss the effects of and potential policy solutions to climate change, Gov. JB Pritzker made the case in a pair of speaking events that Illinois is doing its part to counteract troubling climate trends.
It was the governor’s first international trip, which took him first to London to talk with business leaders, then to Glasgow to attend the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26.
“I'm here to say that in America's heartland lies a state that's taking strides to match the urgency of this moment,” Pritzker said, calling a recently-passed energy regulatory overhaul a “nation-leading climate plan.”
That climate bill, among several other provisions, aims to phase out carbon emissions in the state’s energy sector by 2045 by increasing investments in renewables and the state’s nuclear industry. Another goal of the climate bill and a follow-up business incentives package aims to put 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030.
The international visit was also an effort by Pritzker, members of his staff and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to tout the state as a fertile ground for electric vehicle manufacturers.
The Reimagine Electric Vehicles, or REV Act, passed the General Assembly with near unanimous support in October as lawmakers and the governor’s office shared a sense of urgency in the effort to lure business development in the competitive electric vehicle industry to the state.
The incentives include credits ranging from 50 percent to 100 percent of income tax withheld for a new job created or employee retained in the industry in Illinois, depending on factors such as company location. It also provides tax credits for training costs, among other incentives.
Aside from the recently passed legislation, Illinois also has strong infrastructure, a central placement making it a distribution hub, is home to engineering schools at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, and houses top national laboratories Argonne and Fermilab, Pritzker said.
“It all adds up to this: Illinois intends to become the best place in North America to drive and manufacture an electric vehicle,” Pritzker said, inviting business leaders to “join us in Illinois as we build the beating heart of this industry in North America. Help us reduce emissions from the transportation sector and build out the infrastructure of the future.”
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RENTAL FUNDING: The application period for a new round of financial assistance to renters through the Illinois Housing Development Authority will be delayed one month as the application portal undergoes additional testing, although funding remains available through other state programs.
The latest round of funding, provided by the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this year, includes more than $250 million that IHDA said it expects will help 27,000 Illinois renters. The application window, which was scheduled to open Monday, will now be open from Dec. 6 to Jan. 9.
Amy Lee, a spokesperson for IHDA, said the delay was due to the department’s efforts to switch to a new application portal for this round of funding.
The new portal was built to accommodate the rental assistance program as well as a yet-to-launch mortgage assistance program, Lee said, but testing conducted Friday night showed it would not likely be able to withstand heavy traffic.
Despite the delay, rental assistance funding is still available through other state programs run by the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Renters may still be able to access assistance through an IDHS provider agency. A list of provider agencies, as well as organizations helping with utility bills, free legal aid and additional services can be found at www.illinoisrentalassistance.org/.
The court-based program is available to Illinois residents outside of Cook County and applies to those with active eviction cases. Tenants hoping to access the funding can apply for up to 12 months of past-due rent and up to three months of future rent payments using their eviction court case number at ilrpp.ihda.org.
Lee said IHDA did not expect to begin distributing funding from the latest round of assistance until Dec. 13, and that date is unchanged with the latest delay in launching the platform.
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SCHOOL REPORT CARD: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significant drops in enrollment, academic performance and the likelihood of graduating high school on time, according to the latest school report card released recently by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The report card is an annual report that tracks how the state, and each school and district, are progressing on a wide range of educational goals.
But the report also showed that more Illinois students than ever are preparing for college and careers by taking dual credit, Advanced Placement and career and technical education, or CTE courses, while schools themselves are doing a better job of retaining veteran teachers.
According to the report, which covers the 2020-2021 academic year, total enrollment in Pre-K-12 schools fell 3.6 percent from the prior year, or by about 70,000 students, to just under 1.89 million. State officials said recent trends would have predicted a 1.1 percent decline, meaning the additional 2.5 percent can be attributed to the pandemic.
The biggest enrollment declines were in Pre-K and kindergarten, with pre-K enrollment dropping 17 percent and kindergarten enrollment dropping 8 percent.
The report also shows a disturbing increase in chronic absenteeism since the pandemic began. More than one in five students, or 22.8 percent, missed 10 percent or more of all school days in the year. That’s up from 13.4 percent in 2019, the most recent full pre-pandemic year.
The increase in absenteeism was especially notable among English learners, Black and Hispanic students.
Officials cautioned, however, that the 2021 figures might not be reliable because of the number of students who were engaged in remote learning, where taking accurate attendance counts can be more challenging.
The report card also showed declines in student performance on standardized tests, although those numbers are still preliminary and full results will be published next spring.
The number of students meeting grade-level standards dropped 17.8 percent in math and 16.6 percent in English language arts, with the biggest declines seen among English language learners and low-income students.
The rate of ninth-grade students who were on track to graduate dropped 5.1 percent from 2019, reflecting an increase in students receiving failing grades, ISBE said.
Agency officials said ninth-grade students who are on track are almost four times more likely to graduate than those who are not on track.
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VACCINES FOR CHILDREN: One day after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that children between the ages of 5 and 11 receive the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, the Illinois Department of Public Health adopted the same recommendations Wednesday.
That vaccine had previously been approved for people 12 years of age and older. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized its emergency use for 5- to 11-year-olds last week, and the CDC made the recommendation official Tuesday night.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release that medical experts have reviewed data from clinical trials that included more than 3,000 children, leading to the CDC recommendation. Those trials showed the vaccine to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in children in the age group.
Children in the trials saw the same side effects as adolescents and adults but to a lesser extent, according to IDPH. The side effects included injection site pain, redness and swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, and fever. They generally lasted one to two days.
State officials have urged parents with questions or who are wishing to vaccinate their children to call their pediatrician’s office to learn more.
Pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations will also be available at local health departments, many pharmacies, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and from other providers who offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a news release.
That includes about 2,200 pediatric providers in Illinois who have already enrolled in the state immunization registry and can administer COVID-19 vaccines. IDPH said more than 1,200 youth vaccination events have been held or are scheduled, and the department continues to work with schools to schedule more.
Last week, Gov. JB Pritzker said the state expects to receive 306,000 doses, with another 73,000 going to the city of Chicago and 100,000 doses to pharmacies.
In a Tuesday news conference before the approval, Pritzker and Ezike said it is premature to talk about mandating the vaccine for children in order for them to attend school. Such a decision would have to wait at least for full CDC and FDA approval, not just emergency use authorization.
Pritzker also said that decision would be up to the General Assembly.
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PRITZKER GETS BOOSTER: Gov. JB Pritzker became one of the 800,000-plus Illinoisans who have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot Tuesday, Nov. 2, ahead of his first overseas trip as governor.
Pritzker and his top staff planned to depart to London on Tuesday to meet with business leaders on economic development opportunities in Illinois before heading to Glasgow, Scotland, on Friday for the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties.
Pritzker received a booster dose of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech after receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in March. He noted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized “mixing and matching” vaccines.
Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike urged all eligible Illinoisans to receive the booster shot.
Eligible populations for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are those 65 years of age and older, and those 18 and older who live in long-term care settings or work or live in high-risk settings and had their last dose at least six months ago.
Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible if they are 18 years of age or older and have received the first dose at least two months ago.
Approximately 70 percent of the state’s population aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with 76 percent having received at least one dose.
Pritzker said his administration watches hospitalization and positivity rate numbers daily when considering what to do with masking requirements. They would have to decrease for masking requirements to be lifted, and they would likely remain in schools, he said.
“New hospitalizations are flat,” Pritzker said. “That is not a good sign. That's not what's happened in previous dips from surges. We went down for a while here, but now we've leveled out at a level that is much higher than the summer. And so the question is, is that just a temporary situation?”
The COVID-19 case positivity rate sat at 2 percent Tuesday, and hospitalizations were flattening.
In the summer the positivity rate dipped to 0.6 percent and the number of hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients briefly dipped below 400, with intensive care unit beds in use in one day falling as low as 76.
As of Monday night, there were 1,274 beds in use by COVID-19 patients, a number that was ticking slightly upward. There were 294 ICU beds in use by COVID-19 patients.
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REMAP LAWSUIT UPDATE: A three-judge federal court panel on Friday set the week of Dec. 6 as the time it will hear three consolidated cases challenging the new legislative district maps.
During a teleconference Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr., who presides over the panel, said that while not all of the logistics have been worked out, the hearing will most likely be held in person in the ceremonial courtroom of the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago.
State lawmakers approved the new maps during a special session in August and Pritzker signed them into law Sept. 24.
The maps establish the boundaries for all 118 districts in the Illinois House and 59 districts in the state Senate. But three groups of plaintiffs are suing in federal court arguing that the redistricting plan violates both the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Each of the lawsuits claims that the new maps break up concentrated areas of minority voters who tend to vote as a bloc, thus depriving them of their right to elect candidates of their choice.
One lawsuit, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, focuses exclusively on largely Latino areas of Chicago and its southwest suburbs.
Another, filed by the East St. Louis Branch of the NAACP and other civil rights groups, argues that the new maps in East St. Louis and the Metro East region unfairly breaks up the Black voting population in Democratic Rep. LaToya Greenwood’s district in order to protect white Democratic incumbents in neighboring districts.
The other lawsuit, filed by Republican leaders of the General Assembly, Sen. Dan McConchie and Rep. Jim Durkin, along with their respective GOP caucuses, argues many of the same points as the other two cases.
Dow indicated that the case is being put on an expedited schedule in order to accommodate the 2022 election cycle. Candidates can begin circulating nominating petitions on Jan. 13 and those petitions must be submitted to the State Board of Elections the week of March 7-14. In order to do that, though, candidates need to know what district they will be running in.
Sean Berkowitz, an attorney representing Harmon and Welch, said he does not intend to submit a new plan but instead will defend the maps passed by the General Assembly. Attorneys for each of the plaintiffs said they do not plan to redraw all 177 House and Senate districts but will focus only on the areas of the state they are contesting.
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REMAP LAWSUIT FILING: A Democratic member of the Illinois House has filed a motion in federal court to intervene as a separate defendant in a pair of lawsuits challenging the legislative redistricting plan that was signed into law in September.
Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, who represents the largely Latino 22nd District on Chicago’s southwest side, is arguing that the composition of her district, and therefore her chances of reelection, could hang in the balance if the court decides to alter the map.
A three-judge panel in the Northern District of Illinois is hearing the lawsuits challenging the new maps. One was filed by Republican leaders in the General Assembly, Sen. Dan McConchie and Rep. Jim Durkin. Another was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.
The third case was filed by a group of civil rights organizations that include the East St. Louis Chapter of the NAACP. It was recently transferred to the Northern District to be heard alongside the other two.
Both the Republican and the MALDEF suits argue that the new districts dilute Latino voting power, either by “packing” them into concentrated districts or by “cracking” Latino neighborhoods into separate districts.
The Republican suit specifically mentions the 22nd District as one of only four new districts in which Latinos make up more than 50 percent of the voting age population. But it argues that lawmakers could have formed as many as six Latino districts on Chicago’s southwest side and southwestern suburbs.
“The McConchie Complaint explicitly proposes a revised September map that cuts through the 22nd District,” the motion states, referring to one alternative map portrayed in the GOP complaint.
The motion also states that Guerrero-Cuellar has a right to intervene, “to protect her right to reelection.”
Guerrero-Cuellar was appointed to the 22nd District seat earlier this year to replace former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who resigned. She was also the only Democrat in the Illinois House who voted against the congressional redistricting plan that passed during the recent fall veto session. One other Democrat, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, of Chicago, was recorded as not voting.
The court issued an order Tuesday saying it would take Guerrero-Cuellar’s motion under advisement. A status hearing in the case is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.
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.