Week in Review: Elections, coronavirus, Ipass & more

Federal and State Lawmakers Demand Accountability and Action to Preserve Integrity of Illinois Elections. With early and absentee voting set to start on February 6, U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis, and Illinois State Representatives Tim Butler, Avery Bourne, Mike Murphy, Dan Brady and C.D. Davidsmeyer are demanding accountability and immediate action to preserve the integrity of the March 17 primary election
On December 18, 2019, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office notified the State Board of Elections that a “programming error” led to well over 500 non-citizens being registered to vote over a 17-month period. The letter was not made public until last week.

“I am disappointed to see a program with such good intentions be so poorly administered,” said Congressman Rodney Davis, Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration, which has oversight authority of federal elections. “Automatic Voter Registration has the potential to encourage more voter participation, but as we’ve seen, if it’s not carefully administered, it can have major consequences on the integrity of our elections. This egregious error further highlights the need for states to regularly update their registration rolls and how H.R. 1, which federally mandates processes like Automatic Voter Registration for every state, can have serious issues for states with even less infrastructure than Illinois. I’m planning to convene a listening session through the Committee on House Administration where I hope to hear from the Secretary of State about how he intends to solve this error and reassure Illinois voters that non-citizens are not being registered to vote.”

Upon learning of the error, Assistant Republican Leader Tim Butler and other House Republicans who serve on the House Executive Committee sent a letter to Speaker Mike Madigan asking for an immediate hearing of the House Executive Committee to investigate the situation and hear testimony directly from those involved with the improper implementation of Illinois’ automatic voter registration law.

“This is an egregious mistake,” said Butler. “The right to vote is our most important right as Americans and protecting the integrity of the voting process is vital to preserving its value and credibility, particularly with the threat of foreign meddling that exists today. Considering that the non-citizens who were improperly registered did the right thing by self-identifying themselves, we need clear answers about how this failure happened and definitive solutions to prevent it from ever happening again.”

According to the State Board of Elections, during the 17-month period when non-eligible voters were added to the rolls, 19 ballots were cast by the individuals registered in error.

“Democrats have said election security is a major concern, yet when there are real instances of non-citizens voting, House Democrat leadership is silent,” said Assistant Republican Leader Avery Bourne. "This is a major problem that needs to be resolved immediately. The Automatic Voter Registration program should be suspended until comprehensive reforms and safeguards are put in place, even if it requires action by the General Assembly. Our constituents deserve to know that we are doing everything we can to protect the integrity of our elections.”

At the request of House Republicans, the Illinois House Executive Committee has posted the issue of automatic voter registration for a public hearing that will take place at the State Capitol in Springfield on Thursday, January 30.

2020 United States Census forms will soon be mailed. Taxpayers can reduce burdens on the budgets of their State and local governments by filling out the forms and returning them by mail or e-mail. Illinoisans have been counted by census since 1820. In that year, United States census takers visited each home and farmhouse on the English-speaking side of the frontier line that then existed in our State, and counted 55,211 people. Illinois’ population has since multiplied to reach an estimated 12.7 million people, a number more than 200 times the population of 1820.

Technology has changed tremendously since 1820. The Census Bureau welcomes households that will respond to the American Community Survey via email. Simple directions, included in the census mailing, will provide guidance on how to respond online.

Some people delay responding to the Census Bureau and, in some cases, the Bureau has to send out individuals to households that have not yet responded. Some communities within Illinois are included in the regions across America where the Census Bureau is hiring thousands of temporary positions as census takers to ensure the massive job of counting more than 300 million Americans is completed on time and under budget.

Census numbers are very important to Illinois. The distribution of U.S. congressional seats, the drawing of lines for members of the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate, and the transfer of many kinds of federal aid money are dependent upon Illinois’ residents all standing up and getting counted. For example, many Illinois police forces receive federal aid that is partly based upon the number of people that these forces have to look after and defend.

Illinois House gets ready for 2020 spring session. This year’s session will convene with legislators gathering in Springfield on Tuesday, January 28. With brief recesses for the March primary election and for the April Easter-Passover holiday season, the lawmakers will meet continuously in committees and in full session until the end of May. Various deadlines, posted on the House calendar, mark dates when bills have to be out of Committee and on to the House floor, or have to be passed by the House in time to be considered in the Senate.

Many issues are on the table to be dealt with in spring 2020. Laws regarding taxes, ethics reform, gaming, gun rights and health care are among the key topics to be discussed. Heading the agenda list will be the passage of a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), which starts on Wednesday, July 1. Governor Pritzker will share his priorities with the General Assembly in the State of the State address to be given on Wednesday, January 29.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin congratulates new Senate President Don Harmon. The Illinois Senate this week elected a new leader to preside over the chamber for the 2020 spring session, a move made necessary by the retirement of former Senate President John Cullerton. The four “legislative leaders,” including Durkin and Harmon, often take the lead in negotiating with the Governor on key policy initiatives and the State budget in each legislative session.

“Congratulations to Senate President Don Harmon,” Leader Durkin said. “I look forward to working with him to accomplish great things for the state of Illinois this coming session.”

Representative Cabello files bill to repeal FOID card law. Illinois is one of only four states in the U.S. that requires all gun-owning residents to submit personal identification and pay a fee in order to enjoy the right to possess a firearm. Licensed Illinois gun retailers are required to inspect a purchaser’s Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card before completing the sale. This is one of several areas where Illinois state law weighs more heavily on the lawful purchase and sale of firearms than laws enforced in other states.

State Representative John Cabello has filed House Bill 4067 to repeal Illinois’ FOID Card Act. Chief co-sponsors include Reps. Andrew Chesney, C.D. Davidsmeyer and Darren Bailey.

“For me it’s seems like it’s just another road block for law abiding citizens,” said Cabello. “Criminals are never going to go out and get what they need because they’re criminals. It’s just one more layer of government. I think right now there is a 62,000 back log of people trying to get their FOID or renew their FOID. It’s a problem that we’ve had for a long time.”

Click HERE for the story from WIFR 23 News.

The FOID card law is supposed to be efficient and self-financing through the fees paid by card applicants. The fees go into a special fund that is supposed to pay for and operate the licensure program. However, challenges facing the FOID program were worsened when the administration of a previous governor ‘borrowed’ money from the fund. Starved of money, the program fell into a pattern of back-logged applications and renewals.

First case of coronavirus diagnosed in Chicago. A second case of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday morning.

A 60-year-old Chicago woman who recently returned from a trip to China is the first person in the area confirmed to have contracted coronavirus, health officials said Friday.

The woman returned Jan. 13 from Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak is centered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

She contacted a doctor a few days after her return, and tests confirmed she had coronavirus.

The patient has limited close contacts, all of whom are currently well and who will be monitored for symptoms. Since returning from China, the patient has had very limited movement outside the home, the CDC said.

“Importantly, at this time, public health officials do not advise of any imminent health risk to the public,” local health officials said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health are investigating locations where this patient went after returning to Illinois and are identifying any close contacts who were possibly exposed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a news release.

Tax filing season begins. State income taxes will be due on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, but the Illinois Department of Revenue urges Illinois taxpayers to work with their tax preparers to begin the process now. The fastest way to get a refund is to file electronically and request direct deposit. Calendar-year 2019 returns will be accepted starting on Monday, January 27. The IL-1040 form, and other forms required by Illinois individual income taxpayers, are available at MyTaxIllinois.

Representative McDermed files legislation to protect the privacy of I-PASS users. In an effort to protect individual privacy, State Representative Margo McDermed recently filed legislation to prevent the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority from frivolously giving out personal information.

“There are some serious privacy issues that need to be addressed at the Tollway,” Rep. McDermed said. “The Tollway responding to a subpoena for information relating to a person’s movements is one thing, but readily handing over other personal information is another.”

Last fall a WBEZ report by Tony Arnold outlined how careless the Illinois Tollway is with personal information and how that information can be abused by civil suit lawyers, divorce attorneys, and even stalkers. The report noted how in one such troubling case, despite an order of protection in place, a woman’s ex-boyfriend was able to open a court case, unbeknownst to the woman, and obtain her new cell phone number, email address, credit card, license plate, and I-Pass transponder records from the Illinois Tollway.

Rep. McDermed’s legislation, House Bill 4006, would prohibit the Tollway from releasing personally identifiable information, except to a law enforcement agency with a search warrant. The Tollway must notify a person within 5 days that their information has been obtained and must provide them with the name of the law enforcement agency and a copy of the search warrant.

“The Toll Authority amasses all kinds of data from its customers and their concern is to collect tolls, not to protect customer data,” Rep. McDermed continued. “It’s up to us in the legislature to act to protect their privacy.”

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