CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker signs new congressional maps into law

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday, Nov. 23, signed legislation redrawing the state’s congressional district maps, saying they reflect Illinois’ diversity and preserve minority representation.

Due to the state’s declining population, Illinois will have only 17 congressional seats after the 2022 elections, one fewer than it currently has.

Because most of the state’s population loss occurred in southern Illinois, the new maps combine what are currently the 12th and 15th Districts, held by Republican Reps. Mike Bost and Mary Miller, respectively, into a new 12th District that covers most of the southern one-third of the state.

Miller, however, has indicated she might run in the newly-drawn 15th District, which stretches from west-central Illinois eastward across the state, curling around the city of Champaign and stretching back west and south to an area just west of Collinsville.

It also creates a new 13th District stretching from the Metro East region across a narrow strip of land through Springfield and Decatur, to Champaign.

In the Chicago metropolitan area, the maps create a new largely-Latino 3rd District that currently has no incumbent while also putting Democratic Rep. Marie Newman’s residence in the same district as fellow-Democratic Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia.

Newman, however, has indicated she intends to run in the new 6th District where she would face Democratic Rep. Sean Casten in a primary.

Elsewhere, the new maps link Rockford, the Quad Cities, Galesburg, Macomb and Bloomington into one large C-shaped district.

Analysts at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the new maps an overall grade of F in the categories of partisan fairness, competitiveness and compactness. They estimate the maps create 14 likely Democratic districts and three likely Republican districts.

The Illinois delegation is currently split between 13 Democrats and five Republicans.

The political reform advocacy group CHANGE Illinois, which has advocated for an independent redistricting commission, also harshly criticized the new maps, saying it was designed to produce “predetermined winners and losers in nearly all 17 districts.”

Pritzker, however, said the maps align with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Illinois Voting Rights Act, which requires redistricting plans to preserve clusters of minority voting groups that are large enough and cohesive enough to exert collective electoral power.

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ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN: In its latest round of opinions Thursday, Nov. 18, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a Village of Deerfield assault weapons ban via a deadlocked decision.

The decision was split 3-3, with Justice Michael Burke abstaining from the vote, meaning an appellate court’s ruling that allowed the ban was upheld as the final decision. Burke was part of the 2nd District Court of Appeals which heard the case previously.

The case centered around a narrow window written into a state’s amendment to the FOID Act in 2013, which allowed home rule municipalities to adopt stricter gun laws if they passed an ordinance within 10 days of the law’s effective date, July 9, 2013.

Deerfield did so within the law’s parameters, but the court was asked to decide whether the village’s 2018 amendment to its ordinance that banned civilian use of assault weapons and large capacity magazines was an extension of the 2013 action or a new law altogether.  

In 2019, a Lake County judge ruled in favor of gun rights groups and Deerfield resident Daniel Easterday, who sued to block the ordinance and claimed it was in violation of the state’s FOID and concealed carry laws.

But the 2nd District Appellate Court later overturned that decision, ruling that the 2013 FOID amendment created “a hybrid balance of regulatory power between the state and local governments,” and “Deerfield preserved its power to regulate assault weapons concurrently with the state when it enacted its 2013 ordinance.”

While the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, the 3-3 deadlock means the appellate court decision remains in effect.

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FOID RIGHTS RESTORED: A 2020 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court which declared gun rights to be civil rights was key to a Thursday decision which restored Putnam County man Thomas Brown’s right to a FOID card.

Brown was a FOID cardholder for several years, most recently applying for and being granted renewal in 2013. But in 2016, he tried to purchase a gun at a federal firearm licensee, leading the Illinois State Police to conduct a background check. That unearthed a 2001 conviction in California on a “misdemeanor offense of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse” that he did not disclose on his FOID application, according to a court filing.

California law provides that after a period of 10 years a person convicted of a misdemeanor can no longer be penalized for gun possession. Brown’s lawyers argued that because Brown was eligible to own a gun in California after 10 years, that means he had his “civil rights restored,” satisfying a specific exemption in federal law that allows for his gun ownership.

The court agreed, stating that “California law does not apply to Brown in a vacuum,” and he does not have to show an “affirmative statement of restoration” from the state of California in order to show that he had his civil rights restored.

The fact that California does not consider gun ownership a civil right did not matter in this case, because, the court wrote, “this court unanimously concluded (in the 2020 Johnson case) that restoration of firearm rights under the FOID Card Act constitutes ‘civil rights restored’ for purposes of federal law”

It was necessary for Brown to show that he satisfied that exception in federal law, because the state’s FOID Act specifically states that granting relief to a person who is appealing their denial cannot be done in violation of federal law.

Outside of that question, the Supreme Court determined that the Putnam County court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Brown met all the other criteria to have his gun rights restored.

The Supreme Court noted it had to rule only on whether the circuit court abused its discretion in determining whether Brown met the criteria, which also state that an applicant must not be dangerous and that granting them a FOID card cannot be against the public interest.

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JOB GROWTH: The Illinois unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point in October to 6 percent as employers added 40,900 jobs during the month, the Illinois Department of Employment Security and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday, Nov. 18.

According to the preliminary data, the industry sectors with the biggest job gains during the month were professional and business services, which added 17,700 jobs; leisure and hospitality, which added 8,400 jobs; and trade, transportation and utilities, which gained 7,700 jobs.

Those gains were partially offset by job losses in the information sector and educational and health services.

The October jobless rate in Illinois was 1.4 percentage points higher than the national rate, but it was 2.1 percentage points below where it was a year earlier.

Compared to a year ago, the number of nonfarm payroll jobs was up by 190,300, with gains showing up in nearly all major industries.

The leisure and hospitality sector, which was hit hardest by the pandemic, has added back 60,800 jobs while professional and business services have gained back 50,000 jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities sector has added 37,200.

Financial activities, which is still down by 5,200 jobs, was the only industry group that reported jobs losses over the year. Total nonfarm payrolls were up 3.4 percent over the year in Illinois and 4.1 percent in the nation. 

Along with the October jobless figures, the Bureau of Labor Statistics made a significant downward adjustment to the September unemployment rate, lowering it to 6.2 percent from the preliminary estimate of 6.8 percent. That was due to an adjustment BLS had made in January to the way it estimates the size of a state’s labor force in order to account for the impact of the pandemic.

IDES said in a news release that the adjustment inadvertently created “distortions” to statewide labor force estimates for Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin for January and all subsequent months through September 2021.

BLS said the distortions were only recently identified after Illinois and another state in the agency’s East North Central Division raised concerns about their monthly 2021 labor force estimates. The BLS has found that distortions to the Illinois labor force estimates are limited to January-September 2021.

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.