SPRINGFIELD — The year 2021 was a time of change in Illinois politics and government, whether it was the ushering in of new leadership under the Capitol dome or the passage of consequential legislation that will fundamentally change how the state generates its electricity.
Here is a look back at 10 stories or issues in Illinois state government and politics that dominated the headlines in 2021:
Speaker Madigan out, Speaker Welch in
Pritzker signs landmark climate legislation
After months of intense negotiations, the General Assembly passed and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed landmark climate legislation that puts Illinois on the path towards 100% clean energy generation by 2050. The law calls for the decarbonization of the state’s electric grid by providing subsidies to keep the state’s fleet of nuclear power plants afloat, the closure of coal-fired and natural gas plants no later than 2045 and doubling the state’s investment in renewable energy projects. There are significant concerns about grid reliability and affordability, especially downstate, as the law gets implemented, but it undoubtedly places Illinois as a leader in the Midwest and nationally when it comes to taking action against climate change.
Democratic lawmakers approve gerrymandered maps
Democrats, with supermajorities in the legislature and control of the Governor’s Mansion, drew new state legislative and congressional districts that maximize the party’s opportunities and essentially guarantee Democrats will remain in power in Springfield while sending a Democratic-majority congressional delegation to Washington for another decade. They also redrew Illinois Supreme Court districts, which will change the state judiciary’s boundaries for the first time since the 1960s and give Democrats a better chance to keep their slim 4-3 majority on the court after Justice Thomas Kilbride lost his retention election in 2020.
Major criminal justice reform becomes law
There’s perhaps no state that had a more active legislative response to the 2020 protests for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd than Illinois. The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus went to work, pushing a major criminal justice proposal that, among other things, makes Illinois the first state in the country to ban cash bail and mandates all police officers wear body cameras by 2025. Pritzker signed the legislation in February, which was near-universally condemned in the law enforcement community. Several other “pillars” for the Black Caucus’ reform agenda dealing with economic access, equity and opportunity; education and workforce development; and health and human services were also signed into law by Pritzker.
Rollout of COVID-19 vaccine
There was perhaps no more consequential task this year than ensuring the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which could allow a relative “return to normalcy” should enough residents take their shots. After an initial phased rollout, vaccines became available to all Illinoisans in mid-April. The state peaked at 167,422 shots in arms on April 9. As of Dec. 23, more than 60% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, including nearly 68% of Illinoisans five or older. But hesitancy remains high in conservative portions of the state, where rates significantly lag the state as a whole. This and the emergence of new variants have kept the state from turning the page. Just this week, a single-day record for new cases was reached, which has cities like Chicago considering the implementation of proof of vaccination for entry into certain public places like bars or restaurants.
Illinois repeals last anti-abortion law on books
State receives first credit upgrades since 1990s
Illinois, long the poster child for fiscal irresponsibility, received its first credit rating upgrades in more than 20 years in 2021. It represents a remarkable reversal from 2017, when years of unbalanced budgets, pension holidays and — ultimately — going more than two years without a spending plan, placed the state just one notch above “junk” status. But, with a few years of relative budget stability, enhanced tax revenue and federal COVID-19 relief funds, the state’s fiscal picture is better than it has been in a long time. Illinois still has the lowest bond rating of any state in the country and fiscal challenges remain on the horizon, but it is worth noting some good news, for a change.
State adjusts sports betting legislation
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that amends the state’s sports betting law that will finally allow bets to be made on in-state college sports teams while lifting the ban on online registration starting in March 2022. The former was an annoyance, especially as the Illinois and Loyola men’s basketball teams faced off in March Madness. The latter was an impediment to the continued growth of Illinois’ industry since the vast majority of bets are placed online. The state has a top five sports betting handle in the country, which is now expected to grow with the changes enacted.
Illinois at center of January 6
Illinois politicians have been at the center of the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol in a number of ways. Most directly, state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, was in Washington and attended a speech President Donald Trump gave ahead of the riot. A photo later surfaced showing a pickup truck belonging to Miller with the decal of a far-right wing militia group on its back window. The truck was parked near the Capitol. On the other side of things, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, one of Trump’s fiercest GOP critics, was named to the House committee formed to investigate the incident.
Governor’s race kicks off
Four GOP challengers have announced campaigns to challenge Gov. J.B. Pritzker in the 2022 election. They are state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; businessman Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schmipf; and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan. Since, they have been crisscrossing the state in an attempt to win over conservative voters needed to win the primary. Meanwhile, Pritzker announced his campaign for reelection in July. Democrats and Republicans convened for rallies at the state fairgrounds on consecutive days in mid-August, seeking to build enthusiasm ahead of a long campaign.
A phone call from House Speaker Michael Madigan to Rep. Chris Welch set off a whirlwind 48 hours in Illinois government and politics that woul…
Kinzinger has been engaged in what he believes to be a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. It’s pitting him against loyalists to form…
Dispensaries did more than $669 million in recreational cannabis sales in 2020, with the state collecting more than $175 million in tax revenu…
Democrats notched many victories during the spring legislative session. Republicans said that despite a new speaker, the majority party follow…
Lee Enterprises journalists examined why Illinois is falling so short in meeting its goals to reduce farm runoff, a problem that has a major i…
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December 25, 2021 at 12:33PM