8 Illinois government storylines to watch in 2023 – The Southern

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are closing the book on a year that was lighter on legislating and heavier on politicking. 

During an abbreviated spring session and the fall veto session, 422 laws were passed and signed, less than the nearly 700 that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed in 2021. Such a decline in legislating is expected in an election year. 

Inversely, a bounce back can be expected in 2023 as Pritzker, fresh off a comfortable reelection, and legislative Democrats seek to flex their newfound power in Springfield. 

They will get off to a fast start, returning Jan. 4 for a weeklong lame duck session ahead of the new General Assembly being sworn in on Jan. 11. Pritzker gets inaugurated for his second term on Jan. 9. 

Here are some Illinois state government storylines to keep an eye on in 2023:

Assault weapons ban

The first item of business for lawmakers this new year seems to be a major gun control package that, among other things, would ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, raise the age a person can obtain a FOID card from 18 to 21 and strengthen the state’s “red flag” law. 

If passed and signed, Illinois would join eight other states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and Washington, D.C. in having such a ban on the books.

Though Democrats have firmly been in control of the legislature for two decades and held the governor’s office for all but four of those years, there had always been a reluctance to tackle the issue, a third rail that often exposes inter-party regional divisions. 

However, that all fell by the wayside on July 4, when a 22-year-old gunman opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in suburban Highland Park, killing seven and wounding dozens.

Lawmakers got to work and in early December filed legislation that is expected to be taken up during the lame duck session. 

Changes are expected to be made. Some criminal justice reform advocates have expressed concerns about the penalty enhancements in the legislation. But many expect some version to pass and be signed by Pritzker.

If so, it would be the most significant strengthening of Illinois’ gun control laws, already the strongest in the Midwest, in a generation. 

But, it will open the state to legal challenges as gun rights advocates, buoyed by a recent Supreme Court decision that shifted the standard for evaluating the constitutionality of gun control laws, have promised to file suit. 

SAFE-T Act in flux

A Kankakee County judge’s ruling that the pretrial release and cash bail provisions in the SAFE-T Act are unconstitutional created new confusion just days before they were expected to take effect statewide. 

Under the ruling, the elimination of cash bail will not take effect in 65 of the state’s 102 counties. But it is expected to move forward in the remaining counties, which include four of the state’s five largest counties and two-thirds of the state’s population. 

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has appealed the decision, which will now be considered before the Illinois Supreme Court, which as a 5-2 Democratic majority. 

Pritzker called the decision “a setback,” but senior Democrats expressed confidence that the state’s high court would rule in their favor.

However, the ruling adds more uncertainty as the state seeks to move forward with implementation of the landmark criminal justice reform law.  

Expanding the abortion rights island

Illinois has long been described as an island for abortion rights in the Midwest.

As several surrounding states enacted more severe restrictions, Illinois went in the other direction — approving legislation permitting state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions, removing “trigger law” language and repealing the state’s parental notification law. 

This became even more important when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June. Almost immediately, abortion was banned or extremely restricted in every surrounding state. 



The exterior of the Planned Parenthood-Fairview Heights Health Center is seen on June 16.



LAURIE SKRIVAN, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH


Pritzker, who has positioned himself as a national leader in the abortion rights debate, called for a special session last year to to consider more abortion rights legislation.

While that did not come to pass, House Democrats have been meeting in a working group for several months as they seek to craft new policies for the state.

Some ideas that have been floated: 

  • House Bill 1464, which would prevent a licensed doctor in Illinois from being disciplined in Illinois if another state suspends or revokes their license for performing an abortion. It passed the House last year but was not taken up in the Senate. 

  • A shield law that would protect Illinois abortion providers from criminal and civil liability for performing abortions on out-of-state residents
  • Allowing advanced practice clinicians such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform in-clinic abortions. Thirteen states allow this practice. In Illinois, they can only prescribe abortion-related medications, which are typically only prescribed within the first 11 weeks of a pregnancy.

  • A constitutional amendment that explicitly protects abortion rights. This may be less likely now that Democrats kept control of the Illinois Supreme Court, but could still be taken up if they want it on the ballot in 2024. 

Pritzker for president?

Early in the coming year, President Joe Biden will decide whether to run for reelection in 2024. 

The 80-year-old incumbent has indicated repeatedly that he plans to run for a second term. But Biden’s advanced age — he would be 86 at the end of a second term — has left some skeptical.

Until he officially declares his candidacy, expect speculation to continue swirling around other possible presidential contenders, including Pritzker. 



Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, speaks with President Joe Biden at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago during the president’s visit to Illinois in November 2021.  



SUSAN WALSH, AP file photo


Pritzker, who will turn 58 in a few weeks, has said he supports Biden’s reelection and intends to serve out his second four-year term in Springfield. 

But that hasn’t put speculation to rest. Pritzker’s name has appeared several times in national political stories about possible Democratic contenders in the case Biden steps aside. That doesn’t happen by accident. 

As one Democratic consultant told Lee Enterprises late last year, the governor has surrounded himself with a “robust national political team” that would be capable of mounting a run for the presidency. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker shoots down rumors of interest in a 2024 presidential campaign if President Joe Biden opts not to run for a second term. “I want to be governor of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “I want to continue to be governor of Illinois. I’m doing the job that I love.”


Pritzker has upped his national profile in recent years, first as a critic of former President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic and later as an advocate for abortion rights in wake of the Roe decision. 

He has a legislative track record that any Democrat running for higher office would envy. And he has another distinct advantage: money. He has lots of it and, as his two campaigns for governor show, is not afraid to spend it.

Biden’s decision is expected in the coming weeks. If he decides to run, all of this is moot. But if he forgoes reelection, expect a flood of wannabe Democratic candidates to start testing the waters in the first half of 2023.

Don’t be surprised if Pritzker is among them. 

Can Democrats stay fiscally responsible?

Over the past two years, Pritzker and the Democrats who form supermajorities in the state legislature have shown a fairly remarkable level of fiscal discipline.

The state’s more than $8 billion tranche of federal COVID-19 stimulus funds largely went towards one-time expenses instead of new programs.

And portions of the windfall created by better-than-expected income and sales tax revenues have gone towards paying down the state’s debt and pensions. 

As a result, the state’s unpaid bill backlog is essentially gone and lawmakers were able to restart the state’s “Rainy Day” fund. 

Having money to work with can solve a lot of problems. Heck, they had enough left over to offer $1.8 billion in election year tax relief in 2022. 

It appears happy days will be here to stay for at least another year, with the governor’s Office of Management and Budget in November projecting a $1.7 billion budget surplus for the current fiscal year — up from the initial projection of $444 million — and $357 billion surplus in fiscal year 2024. 

Whether Democrats will be able to maintain that discipline remains an open question. 

The party has expanded its supermajority in the House and maintains strong numbers in the Senate. All those lawmakers have legislative priorities they would like to see funded, whether that’s K-12 education, social services, public safety or other areas covered by the state’s general fund budget.

This period of stability has been good for the state’s fiscal picture. But it shouldn’t be mistaken as a sign that the state’s financial problems have gone away.

Lawmakers have paid the required amount every year plus an additional $500 million the past two years towards the state’s pension system. But, due to a volatile market, the state’s unfunded pension liability actually grew to $140 billion during the last fiscal year. The system is only about 44% funded. 

Pensions will continue to take up a larger portion of the state’s general fund budget, which will create strains in other areas. 

Knowing some of these structural issues remain, lawmakers will have to remain disciplined to preserve the state’s improved financial picture. They will be put to the test this year. 

Pritzker’s second term priorities

During his first term, Pritzker plucked a lot of the low-hanging fruit from the Democrats’ tree of priorities.

From the minimum wage increase to recreational marijuana legalization to landmark clean energy legislation, Pritzker had a remarkably active first term.

What are Pritzker’s priorities for the second term?

Though he will likely lay that out in the coming weeks as lawmakers return to Springfield, the governor offer some hints earlier this year.

In an interview with Lee Enterprises following his primary win in June, Pritzker first mentioned making education more affordable, saying “we should make it free for people to go to college if they earn median income or below.”

This could be done by further increasing support of the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP), a state-funded, need-based grant awarded to Illinois college students.

He also mentioned increasing support for childcare. Currently, the state offers childcare assistance for families at up to 225% the federal poverty level. Pritzker indicated he would like to increase that to 300%. 

Much of this will depend on the state’s budget picture. 

More incentives for business?

In 2021, Pritzker signed the Reimagining Electric Vehicles in Illinois Act, which provided a slew of incentives for EV manufacturers and suppliers to locate within the state.

The package was tailored so companies big and small are eligible, a deliberate sliding scale that may attract more headline-grabbing large companies like Rivian, but also smaller battery and parts producers that can build out the state’s EV supply chain.

But as of now, only one deal, with Decatur-based T/CCI Manufacturing, has been inked under that legislation. 



Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a Sept. 6 news conference at T/CCI Manufacturing in Decatur, where he announced the state’s first tax incentive package under the Reimagining Electric Vehicles Act. 



CLAY JACKSON, THE PANTAGRAPH


During the fall veto session, a trailer bill to the law was passed to sweeten the pot for current employers looking to make EV-related investments. 

More could be coming, with Pritzker indicated that, if the budget allows for it, he would like a “closing fund” of around $1 billion that would allow for him to help lure large employers to Illinois. 

Other states have such funds, including Michigan, which used it to help lure an electric vehicle battery plant last year that Illinois had also sought. 

Though state officials have touted that Illinois’ tax incentives are set up in a way where employers have to show proof of investment and jobs created, this may be a reflection of the competitive landscape as states seek out the industries of the future. 

Madigan on trial

Former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s trial on corruption charges is expected to begin in March. 

Madigan was indicted in March on federal racketeering and bribery charges stemming from hiring practices at utility giant Commonwealth Edison, which added several key Madigan allies to the payroll in the last decade.

The indictment essentially accused Madigan of being at the top of a criminal enterprise in which he used the powers of his office to financially benefit himself and his allies.

Though he no longer holds public office, expect his shadow to be hanging over lawmakers as they meet this spring.  


Contact Brenden Moore at brenden.moore@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13

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December 29, 2022 at 05:09PM

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