Capitol Recap: Here’s what you missed in Illinois state government news last week | Govt-and-politics

Capitol Recap: Here’s what you missed in Illinois state government news last week | Govt-and-politics


“I know this is hard,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a message directly to vaccinated Illinoisans. “You did the right thing for yourself, for your family, for your community, and now because of the new delta variant and the high number of unvaccinated people in the United States, it feels like we’re going backward in this journey.”

SPRINGFIELD — Masks will be required at all Illinois long-term care facilities, day cares and Pre-K-12 schools, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday, Aug. 4, amid a nationwide surge of COVID-19.

The masking requirement extends to indoor but not outdoor activities and sports. The guidance applies to all schools, public and non-public.

Pritzker said there are two routes to enforcing the mask mandate, including civil liability for schools not enforcing the mandate and the removal of recognition status by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also announced Wednesday it is making free COVID-19 testing available to K-12 schools across the state through the SHIELD Illinois saliva-based test developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The test can detect the virus and its variants in those with or without symptoms.

The testing would allow close contacts of a COVID-19-positivie individual to stay in the classroom as long as they test negative. Funding comes from federal COVID-19 relief packages.

By Oct. 4, all Illinois state employees working in congregate facilities will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The order covers certain employees at the Departments of Human Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Corrections and Juvenile Justice working in congregate facilities, and Pritzker said the state has reached out to the unions representing those employees to work out the details.

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Illinois is also requiring universal masking in private long-term care facilities and “strongly encourages owners of private facilities to join the state in adopting vaccination requirements,” according to the governor’s office.

Pritzker said the state is “evaluating every day” the trajectory of the virus and other potential mitigations that may be needed.

VACCINES WORK: While Gov. J.B. Pritzker has mandated masks at schools Wednesday, Aug. 4, the best approach to limiting the spread of COVID-19 is still getting vaccinated, he said. It’s also the best way to limit severe illness and death.

In Illinois, 6.5 million people are fully vaccinated, or 51.2 percent of the population, while 73 percent of the population that is older than 12 years of age has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state averaged 28,180 vaccine doses administered each day over the past seven days.

Of the millions of fully vaccinated individuals, just 714 have spent time in the hospital with COVID-19, according to IDPH. Since January, 180 vaccinated individuals have died of COVID-19 symptoms, accounting for just 2.58 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths this calendar year. That number increased by 11 from the state’s reporting of the numbers last week.

That’s about 0.01 percent of vaccinated individuals who have been hospitalized for the virus and 0.003 percent who have died of complications.

“The overwhelming majority of cases, the hospitalizations, the deaths are among those who are not vaccinated,” Ezike said. “And the majority of transmission is also among the unvaccinated. …But the key is that we actually have the tools to turn the tide on the next wave. And that next wave wants to threaten us if we don’t avail ourselves of these tools.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said youth hospitalizations and infections have been rising.

About 5.5 percent of COVID-19 cases were among those who are younger than 10 years of age in January, Ezike said, but that number increased to 15 percent last month. Approximately 13 percent of cases in January were among those 10-19 years old, increasing to 23 percent in July. Hospitalizations for those 20 years old and younger have tripled from 2.5 percent to 7.8 percent in that time span.

“And yes, while most children who get COVID have fewer symptoms than adults, they absolutely can still get COVID-19 and they can absolutely spread it to others,” Ezike said, noting many cases of the virus have spread at youth camps this summer.

ENERGY BILL IMPASSE: With talks between labor and environmental groups at an impasse, and with the clock ticking on the impending closure of two nuclear plants in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday, Aug. 4, urged lawmakers to quickly take up the “compromise” package he put forth in June.

“This is not something that’s left to interest groups to decide. This is a decision that gets made by the legislature and by the governor,” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference Wednesday. “And here we are. This bill has been put together after much negotiation over many, many months. And we now have a piece of legislation that is ready to go and it needs to be called in the legislature and voted on.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker before signing legislation that expands protections for immigrant and refugee communities at East Aurora High School in Aurora on Monday. 

The bill that Pritzker is pushing would put Illinois on a path to 100 percent emission-free power production by 2050. It includes nearly $700 million over five years in subsidies to keep Exelon’s fleet of nuclear power plants open, incentives for the development of more wind and solar generation and a scheduled phase-out of most coal-fired by 2035 and natural gas plants by 2045.

As part of a compromise, Pritzker also proposed allowing Springfield’s City Water Light and Powder facility and Metro East’s Prairie State Energy Campus to remain open through 2045, provided they could find a way to capture at least 90 percent of their carbon emissions.

One hold-up was a substantive disagreements between labor and environmental groups over the phase-out of fossil fuel plants, especially two large coal-fired plants in Springfield and the Metro East area near St. Louis.

Exelon, meanwhile, has announced plans to close its Byron Generating Station in September and its Dresden Generating Station by November, arguing they are too unprofitable to keep online. Together, those plants employ about 1,500 workers.

The company made similar announcements in 2016 just before lawmakers passed the Future Energy Jobs Act, which included financial support for two other Exelon nuclear power plants.

And on July 28, the company filed paperwork with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission detailing its long-term plans for cleanup of the sites and disposal of their radioactive nuclear waste.

On Monday, Aug. 2, The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which is made up of several environmental groups, and the labor-backed Climate Jobs Illinois both notified Pritzker’s office that their negotiations had reached an impasse, with labor groups insisting that fossil fuel plants be allowed to stay in operation at some level in perpetuity.

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MENSTUAL HYGIENE: Three new state laws will aim to break down barriers to feminine hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary napkins for those who can’t afford them.

Two of the laws make menstrual products available at state colleges and universities and require homeless shelters to stock the products, budget permitting. Another would require the state to apply for a waiver to allow certain federal assistance funds to be used on the products, provided the federal government makes such a waiver available.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measures at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Thursday, Aug. 5, contrasting the state’s efforts to pass women’s health legislation to Republican-led states such as Missouri seeking to overturn the Supreme Court precedent of Roe vs. Wade as it pertains to abortion rights.

House Bill 641 requires state universities and community colleges to stock feminine hygiene products in any restroom in a college building that serves students. That measure passed the House 74-37 and the Senate 42-13, each with mostly Democratic but some Republican support. It takes effect immediately.

House Bill 155 would require the Illinois Department of Human Services to apply for a waiver to the federal government to allow the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children to purchase diapers and menstrual hygiene products.

That bill had unanimous support in the General Assembly.

House Bill 310 requires homeless shelters that serve women and youth to make menstrual hygiene products available free of charge. That requirement, however, is “subject to the availability of funds in the homeless shelter’s general budget,” according to the bill.

That measure passed the General Assembly with only one vote against in the Senate and three votes against in the House. It will become law in January 2022.

FOID LAW: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a wide-ranging bill reforming the state’s gun laws Monday, Aug. 2, at the Aurora Police Department.

Advocates for the new law – including Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly – hailed it as a measure that would provide the statutory backing and funding necessary to retrieve guns from those with revoked Firearm Owners Identification cards, while also streamlining the application and renewal process for law-abiding gun owners.

The new law, which was supported by gun reform advocates while the Illinois State Rifle Association remained neutral, creates a number of changes to gun statutes, including:

State Police must create a “prohibited persons portal” to track people who have had their cards revoked or suspended. Law enforcement agencies, state’s attorneys and the attorney general would have access to that portal.

ISP must establish the Violent Crime Intelligence Task Force to aid in enforcement of FOID card revocation or suspension enforcement.

Brendan Kelly

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly holds a press conference in March 2021. 

The $10 renewal fee for FOID cards will remain the same under the law, but beginning in 2022 half of it will go to the State Police Firearm Services Fund which oversees applications and renewals, and half to the State Police Revocation Enforcement Fund. Previously, $6 of that fee went to the state Fish and Wildlife fund while $3 went to the Firearms Services Fund and another $1 went to the State Police Services Fund.

FOID card applicants would not be required to submit fingerprints, but if they do, or they share with the Illinois State Police the fingerprints they filed to receive their Concealed Carry License, they would be eligible for automatic renewal without a renewal fee. That process is to be established by 2023.

Starting in 2024, private sellers will have to conduct background checks on the buyer through ISP or a federal firearm licensee. Buyers would have to submit a record of the transfer to a federal firearm license dealer within 10 days of receiving the gun.

State Police must develop a stolen gun database through which potential buyers may search the serial number of a gun to determine whether it is stolen.

State Police must monitor state and federal databases for residents charged with firearm-related crimes and to correlate the records with FOID and Concealed Carry Licenses.

A FOID Card Review Board is created to consider appeals on denied or revoked cards.

FOID and CCL can be combined into one license and ISP can produce an electronic ID for that license.

IMMIGRANT PROTECTIONS: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed four bills into law Monday, Aug. 2, aimed at protecting the state’s immigrant and refugee populations, saying they will help make Illinois “the most welcoming state in the United States” for immigrants.

Among those are a requirement for local governments to end partnerships with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a law making a person’s citizenship or immigration status a potential motivation for a hate crime, and protections from workplace discrimination based on a person’s work authorization status.

Senate Bill 667, dubbed the Illinois Way Forward Act, prohibits both the state and local governments from signing or renewing contracts with the federal government to detain immigrants. It also prohibits law enforcement from asking about or investigating the immigration or citizenship status of a person being held in custody. It was sponsored by Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero.

Senate Bill 1596 enhances penalties for certain crimes by classifying them as hate crimes if they were motivated, even in part, by the victim’s actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status. Other categories protected under the state’s hate crime law include race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability and national origin.

That bill was sponsored by Jacqueline Collins and Rep. Theresa Mah, both Chicago Democrats. It takes effect Jan. 1.

House Bill 121, by Chicago Democrats Rep. Will Guzzardi and Sen. Ram Villivalam, is aimed at protecting people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, or DACA. It prohibits work employment discrimination based on a person’s work authorization status, defined as “the status of a person born outside the United States, and not a U.S. citizen, who is authorized by the federal government to work in the United States.”

And finally, Pritzker signed Senate Bill 2665, by Sen. Celina Villanueva and Rep. Aaron Ortiz, both Chicago Democrats, establishing an Illinois Immigration Impact Task Force to examine issues involving immigrant communities in the state and to report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by May 31, 2022.

In addition to those bills, Pritzker also signed an executive order establishing a Welcoming Illinois Office within the governor’s office to develop and coordinate policies to make Illinois a more welcoming and equitable state for immigrants and refugees.

Also Monday, Pritzker had signed 232 bills from the spring 2021 session into law. Another 434 bills are awaiting action.

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