CAPITOL RECAP: Major action expected in veto session’s second week

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SPRINGFIELD – The legislative action was light during the General Assembly’s first week of fall session, and lawmakers in both chambers left town a day early after leadership canceled the Thursday, Oct. 21, session.

That means bigger items, such as a vote on congressional maps and potential changes to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act and a repeal of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, will have to wait until next week, Oct. 26-28, for substantive action.

Republicans used the light legislative days to make a case against one of the main Democratic agenda items and to push for some of their own – including public safety reforms and checks on the governor’s power – in a series of news conferences.

Parental Notice of Abortion: On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the four women in the Senate Republican Caucus made clear their opposition to repealing the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which requires that a physician give 48 hours notice to a parent or guardian of a person under the age of 18 who intends to get an abortion.

The law does not require the guardian to give consent, and doesn’t apply if an adult family member waives the notice in writing. Additionally, there are exceptions for minors who are victims of physical or sexual abuse or neglect by an adult family member, if the minor is married or emancipated, or if the provider determines there is a medical emergency. A judge can also waive the requirement.

Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, characterized the issue as one of parents’ rights that is independent of “the typical pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.” Parents should have a right to know when their child is going to undergo a major medical procedure such as an abortion, the GOP senators argued.

Sen. Sally Turner, R-Beason, said a repeal would “make it easier for sexual predators and sex traffickers to abuse our children.”

The ACLU of Illinois countered that claim Wednesday in a news release, circulating a letter cosigned by several groups that aid sexual assault victims, such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

They said the Republican claims “rely on an erroneous belief that parents and/or social networks are always safe and healthy individuals in a young person’s life and that, if notified, they would assist in an intervention to help the young person.”

“However, what we know is that victims are often lured into a trafficking or exploitative situation because they lack parental and/or familial support,” they wrote in the letter. “Traffickers often come along to fill such a void in the young person’s life. In fact, traffickers can be and often are the young person’s parents or family members.”

Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, however, argued that the existing exceptions in the law are protection enough for minors who have been abused.

Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, who carries the repeal bill in the House, told Capitol News Illinois she still hopes to call it for a vote next week, although she did not indicate whether she had enough votes lined up in support of the repeal.

Public safety push: There’s been no indication that the majority party Democrats will take up the other two matters pushed by Republicans this week – checks on executive authority and public safety reforms.

Republicans from both chambers gathered outside of the Illinois Police Officers Memorial on the Capitol Grounds Wednesday to push for a reform package spearheaded by former prosecutor and current state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

That package includes a bill that would appropriate $100 million to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to fund grants to local departments for gang violence, carjacking and motor vehicle theft prevention, as well as officer staffing.

Another bill would eliminate good time sentence reductions for someone who brought a weapon to a penal institution or attacked a law officer. Another would require a prosecutor to provide a written explanation if a weapons offense is plea bargained to a lesser sentence.

Rose also touted a “10 and life” provision, requiring a minimum 10-year sentence for aggravated discharge of a firearm, use of a stolen or illegally acquired firearm in an offense, unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon, armed habitual criminal offenses or aggravated hijacking or carjacking. A second such offense would come with a life sentence.

“We’re not talking about the so called low-level nonviolent offender,” Rose said. “We’re talking about violent offenders who are walking our streets, gun traffickers, carjackers. …The brunt of our effort is to take the violent criminals, the gun traffickers the carjackers, the shooters, off the streets.”

Governor authority: House Republicans held their own news conference Wednesday to push for the passage of House Bill 843, which would limit the governor’s ability to issue consecutive disaster proclamations.

Pritzker has issued successive proclamations due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. In the future, the bill would limit the governor to one 30-day declaration, and if it is extended it would need written approval from three legislative leaders or an affirmative resolution from the General Assembly. 

Democrats have shown no indication that they were willing to provide such a check on the governor’s disaster authority, instead allowing him to continue under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act without intervention.

“Tacit approval is not appropriate in this situation,” Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, who sponsors HB843, said at the news conference. “That does not allow for public hearing and debate that the people of the state get to see and hear and know that their viewpoints are being considered and heard by the people making decisions. It’s still just allowing one person to rule and not allowing the people to have their voice heard.”

VACCINE BOOSTERS: Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday, Oct. 19, urged eligible Illinoisans to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot and called on skilled nursing facilities to make booster shots available to patients and staff by Thanksgiving.

Currently anyone who received the Pfizer vaccine and is over 65 years of age or at higher risk of COVID-19 because of their jobs, living conditions or underlying medical condition should get a booster shot of the same vaccine.

This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to rule on the same recommendation for people in those age and risk groups who received the Moderna vaccine.

For those who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recommending a second dose for all age and risk groups at least two months after the first shot was received. The CDC could officially accept those recommendations this week as well.

More information on where to obtain a vaccine can be found at vaccines.gov.

The Illinois Department of Public Health is partnering with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Illinois Department on Aging to promote boosters and support skilled nursing facilities in administering them.

The administration encouraged all skilled nursing facilities to host a vaccine booster clinic by Thanksgiving, and said IEMA can, with a request for assistance, mobilize its community partners vaccination program to support those efforts. IEMA has hosted more than 4,000 vaccine clinics through the community partners program since vaccines became available.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said IDPH is currently working on additional training for COVID-19 vaccine providers that will cover booster doses by type, as well as planning for upcoming vaccination for the children under the age of 12.

An FDA panel is set to review data on authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 12 on Oct. 26, while the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the CDC review is scheduled for Nov. 2-3.

INITIAL MAPS REJECTED: A three-judge federal court panel in Chicago ruled Tuesday that the legislative redistricting plan that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June – before official 2020 U.S. Census numbers were available – was unconstitutional because the population variances among districts violated the “one-person, one-vote” doctrine.

But the court did not, as Republican officials had hoped, order that a bipartisan redistricting commission be formed to redraw the maps. Instead, it declared the second set of maps that Pritzker signed in September to be a “starting point” in developing a new map, and it invited plaintiffs in two cases challenging the redistricting process to propose their own solutions.

Those rejected June maps were based on population estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey because official data from the 2020 census had been delayed until August 2021.

Democrats argued that they needed to move forward because the Illinois Constitution gives the General Assembly until only June 30 in the year following a decennial census to approve a redistricting plan. After June 30, the state constitution requires the formation of a bipartisan legislative commission to draw new maps, a process in which either party would have a 50-50 chance of controlling the outcome.

One of two lawsuits challenging the initial maps was filed by Republican leaders of the General Assembly, Sen. Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, and Rep. Jim Durkin, of Western Springs.

They urged the court to declare the maps unconstitutional and order the formation of the bipartisan commission required under the Illinois Constitution.

The second lawsuit was filed by a group of Hispanic voters in the Chicago area who were represented by attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF. They had asked the court to declare the maps unconstitutional and for the court itself to order a remedy.

But defendants in the case – who included House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Senate President Don Harmon, the Illinois State Board of Elections and its individual members – argued that because lawmakers had come back in the summer to pass a second set of maps, any challenge to the first set of maps should be considered “moot.”

The court, however, rejected that argument, noting that even though lawmakers had passed a second set of maps, they never specifically repealed the first set.

But it also rejected the Republicans’ request to order formation of a bipartisan commission.

Both the Republicans and the MALDEF plaintiffs have argued that the second set of maps is unconstitutional as well, in part because they reduce the number of Latino-majority districts in both the House and Senate, even though the Latino population grew substantially between 2010 and 2020.

The court gave the plaintiffs until Nov. 8 to submit their proposed revisions to the second set of maps, along with a statement explaining how those revisions would cure any constitutional defects. Defendants then have until Nov. 18 to respond to those proposed revisions.

CONGRESSIONAL MAPS: Members of the public got their first chance to speak directly to state lawmakers Wednesday, Oct. 20, about a proposed set of new congressional district maps, and most of those who did were critical of the plan.

Democrats in the General Assembly released a proposed new map Friday that divides Illinois into 17 congressional districts, one fewer than it has had for the past 10 years because of the state’s population decline since the 2010 census.

The General Assembly returned to Springfield on Tuesday for the start of their annual fall veto session, and on Wednesday the House and Senate Redistricting Committees held their first hearing since the proposal was released.

Ryan Tolley, policy director for the reform advocacy group CHANGE Illinois, noted that the proposal had been given a grade of “F” by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan project at Princeton University that seeks to eliminate partisan gerrymandering.

That was due mainly to its lack of partisan fairness and the fact that the proposal includes a number of oddly shaped districts that are not compact and which divide a large number of counties into multiple districts.

A number of other people who spoke to both committees Wednesday testified about their particular areas of the state, including residents of southwest Chicago who are currently in the 3rd congressional district.

Under the proposed map released last week, that district would be greatly reshaped, stretching farther west, reaching into Will, Grundy and LaSalle counties.

Others, such as Juan Calderon, a West Side resident and chief operating officer at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, urged lawmakers to consider drafting a map that would have two largely-Latino districts because the Latino population of Illinois grew substantially over the past 10 years while the white and Black populations both declined.

The proposed map released last week is considered a first draft and will likely be changed before being voted on in either chamber.

Both chambers of the General Assembly adjourned Wednesday and canceled their scheduled sessions Thursday, which means they won’t vote on a new congressional map until next week at the earliest.

GUN TAX REJECTED: The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Cook County tax on gun purchases is unconstitutional, but it left the door open for a more tailored tax that specifically goes toward mitigating gun violence and its effects.

The Cook County gun tax, which took effect in April 2013, imposed a $25 fee for retail gun purchases in the county, as well as a 5 cent fee per cartridge of centerfire ammunition and 1 cent per cartridge fee for rimfire ammunition.

The taxes were challenged by the trade group Guns Save Life Inc. in a lawsuit against the county.

The Supreme Court’s Thursday opinion, written by Justice Mary Jane Theis, stated that, “While the taxes do not directly burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to use a firearm for self-defense, they do directly burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to acquire a firearm and the necessary ammunition for self-defense.”

In the 14-page, 6-0 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed an appellate court ruling that would have allowed the taxes to stay in place. Chief Justice Anne Burke did not take part in the decision.

While the court rejected the tax, it did specifically note that the county’s failure to earmark the revenue from the tax for gun violence prevention programs played a major role in the decision.

“Under the plain language of the ordinances, the revenue generated from the firearm tax is not directed to any fund or program specifically related to curbing the cost of gun violence,” the court wrote.  “Additionally, nothing in the ordinance indicates that the proceeds generated from the ammunition tax must be specifically directed to initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence. Thus, we hold the tax ordinances are unconstitutional under the uniformity clause.”

Justice Michael Burke issued a four-page special concurrence disagreeing with the majority’s analysis that the county’s spending plans affected whether the tax was permissible under Article 1, Section 22 of the state constitution, which reads: “Subject only to the police power, the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

“The only problem with the majority’s approach — and the guidance it offers the county — is that such counsel, if followed, would still violate the provision of the Illinois Constitution noted above that plainly states that the right of the individual to keep and bear arms is subject only to the police power, not the power to tax,” he wrote.

The county intends to meet with its legal counsel and “determine any next steps that may be warranted,” it said in a statement. 

DAY CARE VACCINES: Gov. JB Pritzker announced an executive order Friday, Oct. 22, that will add day care personnel to the list of professions that must either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.

The governor’s office said it expects the order to affect 55,000 individuals in the state, although many of them may have already received a vaccine.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive any of the approved vaccines in the U.S., although Pfizer has asked federal regulators to approve its vaccines for children aged 5 to 11. Children 12 years of age and older are currently eligible for that vaccine.

Day care professionals will be required to receive their first dose by Dec. 3, and their second by Jan. 3. Those not fully vaccinated by Dec. 3 will have to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing until they are fully vaccinated, according to the governor’s office.

There are 2,872 day care centers in Illinois that are licensed through the Department of Children and Family Services, the governor’s office said in a news release.

Since August, the governor’s office has mandated the same vaccine or testing requirements for health care professionals, teachers and staff at Pre-K-12 schools, higher education personnel and students, and a number of state workers.

STATE EMPLOYEE VACCINES: On Wednesday, Oct. 20, the governor’s office announced it had reached an agreement with a fifth state employee union, bringing the number of union employees covered by vaccine agreements to nearly 2,100.

The latest agreement with the Teamsters union covers equipment operators and maintenance workers at the Illinois Department of Human Services and Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, about 100 workers in total, according to the governor’s office.

They join the VR-704 union, the Illinois Nurses Association, the Illinois Federation of Public Employees and Illinois Trade Unions as those covered in agreements with the state.

Per those agreements, employees will receive an additional personal day, and may be compensated at their regular pay for the time taken to receive the vaccine if none is available off work hours. Vaccinated employees may also receive paid time off if they contract COVID-19.

Those employees have an Oct. 26 deadline for their first vaccine, while the second dose must be received by the end of November. Negotiations are ongoing with the state’s largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, or AFSCME.

That union represents 39,000 state workers – including about 20,000 covered by the executive order.

The governor’s vaccine mandates were first issued in late August amid a surge of the COVID-19 delta variant that has proven about twice as transmissible as the first wave of the virus.

On Aug. 26, when the governor issued the order, the rolling case positivity rate for COVID-19 tests was 5.4 percent.

Virus transmission rates have ticked downward since that time, and the case positivity rate sat at 2 percent as of Friday. That number is still well above the mid-June lows of 0.6 percent.

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.

Region: Northern,Region: Kankakee,Feeds,News,City: Kankakee

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October 22, 2021 at 04:47PM

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