Week in Review: COVID-19, Census, Elections & More

Governor Issues Disaster Proclamation. JB Pritzker, Governor of the State of Illinois, in the interest of aiding the people of Illinois and the local governments responsible for ensuring public health and safety issued a Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation this week in response to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

This proclamation will assist Illinois agencies in coordinating State and Federal resources, including the Strategic National Stockpile of medicines and protective equipment, to support local governments in preparation for any action that may be necessary related to the potential impact of COVID-19 in the State of Illinois.

State of Illinois Daily COVID-19 Briefing - 32 Cases. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced Thursday that seven more individuals in Illinois have tested positive at the IDPH laboratory for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

"The virus is here in Illinois. While it may not be in your community now, we anticipate it will be eventually. We all need to take action now by postponing large events and restricting visits to nursing homes to limit the spread," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "Guidance for this novel virus is changing day by day, sometimes hour by hour, but we want to empower people to think about what they can do to reduce their risk of possible infection, as well as spread of the virus. The state will continue with containment efforts while also implementing mitigation strategies and we're asking for your help in these efforts."

Approximately 29% of the cases in Illinois are travel associated, about 44% are a contact of a COVID-19 case, and the remaining cases do not have a clear connection and could be the result of spread in the community. While the vast majority of cases are recovering, approximately 94% are in isolation either at home or in the hospital. At this time, there have been no deaths associated with COVID-19 in Illinois.

Public health officials are still investigating the travel history of these individuals and any potential contact with a known COVID-19 case. Public health officials will identify and contact people who are considered close contacts of these cases.

An increase in cases each day not only includes monitoring and following-up with each patient for care, it also means dozens if not hundreds more close contacts need to be identified and contacted. IDPH understands there is a high demand for information and we want to provide as much information as possible, but our top priority is investigating all cases and protecting patient confidentiality. Reports of suspected cases are inevitable, especially when we see more spread, but we want to reassure people that we are sharing as much information as we can as soon as we can.

For information about how you, your school, workplace, and community can prepare, please visit Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities. For general questions about COVID-19, call the hotline at 1-800-889-3931 or email dph.sick@illinois.gov.

State of Illinois and City of Chicago Issue New Guidance to Minimize COVID-19 Spread. Following CDC guidance and recommendations by local public health experts, the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago issued new guidance to residents on Thursday, March 12 to prevent further spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). These new precautionary measures were developed with large events and gatherings in mind, and will promote social distancing practices - a key recommendation to prevent community spread of the disease with the least disruption possible to people's daily lives.

"The guidance I am issuing today is for the entire state of Illinois. We have seen what works and what doesn't work from other countries around the world - especially in the earliest days of community spread of this virus. Don't be fooled into thinking your community is immune," said Governor JB Pritzker. "I am not going to hesitate to take the most aggressive measures possible to protect the people of our state. We need to reduce social contact in order to try and control the spread of the virus and prevent our medical infrastructure from dealing with too many cases at one time. We all have responsibilities to the most vulnerable among us and that means making sacrifices in the immediate term."

Specifically, the State of Illinois and City of Chicago are issuing the following guidance:

  • The State and City are mandating all large-scale events exceeding 1,000 individuals be cancelled for the next 30 days. The City of Chicago will be enforcing this ban.
  • Additionally, the State and the City are encouraging that community events of 250 people or more should be cancelled or postponed until May 1. This includes personal and social events. Residents should use good judgment about canceling events in their own communities.
  • For events less than 250 people, residents should closely consider who is likely to attend the event and, if it includes vulnerable populations, strongly consider canceling.
  • All major sporting events with large spectator crowds should be cancelled until May 1. This should include school and college events as well as major league sporting events. The Governor has spoken with the owners of all the major sports teams in Illinois and they are in full support of these measures to protect the health of their fans and will cancel all games until May 1.
  • As of Thursday, March 12, the City and the State were not recommending that school be cancelled. While schools will remain open, local jurisdictions should develop their own local guidance.
  • The State of Illinois is working closely with school districts around the state on their own guidance and policies, and currently recommends schools do not hold large assemblies, including sports with spectators exceeding 250 people. While every school district is different, the State encourages school administrators and faculty to make responsible decisions, guided by recommendations from the CDC and the state, that are in the best interest of the health and safety of their students.
  • Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system has collaborated with CDPH to issue its own unique guidance, which includes cancellation of events of 50 people or more and suspending sports until further notice. CPS will also restrict access to school buildings to essential personnel, and limit district-sanctioned trips beyond city limits.
  • The Office of the Governor will remain open and operating, as we are fully committed to ensuring that the government will continue to serve the people of Illinois during this time.
  • The Office of the Governor is working closely with all state agencies to ensure essential services will continue to be provided, while taking steps to protect the health and safety of state workers.
  • The James R. Thompson Center will be closed to people who don't have business with the state in the building for the foreseeable future, beginning Monday. The essential government functions that the people in this building perform will continue during this time.
  • City Hall will remain open, and there is no plan to cancel meetings of the City Council for the next week. However, the City is strongly recommending, in accordance with guidance from CDPH and the CDC, that residents view next week's meeting via livestream instead of in-person to ensure City business moves forward safely and efficiently.
  • The State encourages businesses across the state to take advantage of teleworking capabilities.
  • Every business that can have employees work remotely should consider doing so immediately.
  • For those who cannot, we encourage employers to take proper precautions to keep individuals safe in the workplace. This includes reminding staff to stay home when sick or with a fever; considering a plan for teleworking where feasible; remaining flexible on leave policies; and promoting robust mitigation approaches, such as hand washing, cleaning, and offering hand sanitizer. The City is also developing an addendum to its sick leave policies, as well as guidance on teleworking for employees.
  • The election will proceed as scheduled on Tuesday, March 17. This is a fundamental function of government, and the state is committed to making sure the election proceeds with as little disruption as possible.
  • Local jurisdictions are encouraged to expand hours for early voting over the weekend to reduce the number of people who would need to vote on Election Day.
  • Voters who have not already submitted a vote by mail application can pick up a vote by mail ballot through Monday at their local election offices.
  • The State and the City continue to focus outreach efforts for those most vulnerable to severe illness from the coronavirus, our elderly and immunocompromised residents.
  • Individuals who fall into these categories should take extra caution when attending gatherings of any size and avoid exposure to large groups of people whenever possible.
  • The State has implemented new staffing procedures and strict guidelines restricting visitors at state-operated long-term care facilities and is also working closely with private nursing home and assisted living associations on the adoption of similar guidelines.
Legislative session cancelled for week of March 18-20. Due to concerns over the potential spread of COVID-19, the Illinois General Assembly has cancelled the session days planned for March 18-20. Work scheduled to take place during this week will be postponed to later dates TBD.

In line with overall public health guidelines, permits for tour group visit, and interest group lobby/rally visits to the Illinois State Capitol have been suspended. In new guidelines offered on Thursday, March 12, the State Capitol will remain open. Individuals throughout Illinois are reducing their contacts with other in public places, and they should do so at the Illinois State Capitol as well. There are a wide variety of electronic options for individuals and groups to stake out positions on bills and other matters being considered by Illinois lawmakers. The ILGA Dashboard shows what legislative activities may be taking place.

Complete the 2020 Census Online. Illinois residents can now complete the census questionnaire online at my2020census.gov. Completing the census online will ensure that Illinoisans get both the representation and federal funding for the critical services that they deserve,

The online questionnaire is the quickest and easiest way to get counted in Illinois and can be accessed from a smart phone, tablet, laptop, computer and terminals at local libraries. The census is nine questions long and will take less than 10 minutes to complete.

An accurate count of Illinois' population is essential to ensure the State receives the funding needed to properly care for its residents and provide critical services and programs. In 2015, Illinois received $19,738,866,367, or approximately $1,535 per capita, in federal assistance for sixteen programs. Failure to count every Illinois resident will have devastating effects on Illinois' ability to meet the needs of its residents. Even a one-percent undercount would result in the loss of $19,557,435 per year, for a decade, resulting in a total loss of $195,574,350 for the State of Illinois.

Additionally, the number of seats Illinois has in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 10 years will be determined by the census count this year. Illinoisans deserve proportionate representation in the U.S. Congress, and a fair and accurate census count is how we ensure that happens.

Butler, Bourne Call for Audit & Suspension of Automatic Registration after Latest Error. In light of yet another “programming error” related to Illinois’ Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) system, State Representatives Tim Butler and Avery Bourne are calling for a thorough audit and suspension of the system until problems are resolved. The latest problem with the system while on the Secretary of State’s watch has caused more than 1,100 valid voter registrations to be wrongly coded as opting-out instead of being registered.

“It started with non-citizens being registered, then minors being registered, and now actual citizens of legal voting age not being registered. How much more evidence do we need that AVR has to be put on hold and a thorough audit conducted?” said Rep. Butler. “These exact concerns were expressed back in 2017 during the discussions of instituting an AVR program in our state and these revelations underscore that those concerns were well-founded. With the primary election happening in a week and the presidential election in November, these egregious mistakes have to be corrected before AVR is allowed to continue.”

Butler, Bourne and House Republicans first called for action at the end of January when the first revelation that 574 self-identified non-citizens were mistakenly registered to vote. U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis joined House Republicans in that call and several public hearings have since been held, but no action to put the AVR program on hold has been taken by the Governor or the Democrat led General Assembly. In February, Butler and Bourne filed House Bill 5224 to suspend the AVR program until the problems with the system are corrected. Now, House Resolution 827 has been filed to call for a thorough audit to be conducted by an outside, independent auditor.

“It has been over a month since I first called for suspension of the Automatic Voter Registration system. With the revelation of this latest error within Illinois’ AVR system, it’s past time for lawmakers to take definitive steps to protect the integrity of our elections,” said Rep. Bourne. “The wrongful rejection of 1,152 valid voter registrations is unacceptable, and the latest in a series of problems that warrant the temporary suspension of AVR until all issues are resolved. Access to fair and free elections is a fundamental right, and there should be zero margin for error. The rollout of AVR has been plagued with problems and it’s time for the General Assembly to intervene.”

Besides the most recent revelation about the improperly coded 1,152 valid voter registrations, the Secretary of State’s Office also forwarded the information of some 4,700 16-year-olds through the AVR system to the State Board of Elections for pre-registration. Fortunately, the Board of Elections rejected most of those before they were registered.

Owner of four major southern Illinois coal mines declares bankruptcy. Foresight Energy operates the Hillsboro, Macoupin, Sugar Camp, and Williamson mines and mine complexes, which produce coal that can be used to generate electricity. With the growth of natural gas turbines, wind turbines, and solar panels, however, coal-fired generating plants continue to go offline. The four mine complexes are located in Franklin County (Sugar Camp), Macoupin County (Macoupin), Montgomery County (Hillsboro), and Williamson County (Williamson). The Sugar Camp mine complex is the single most productive coal mine complex in Illinois, with significant capital investment in longwall claws that bite into the entire horizontal surface of a coal seam. Sugar Camp was pursuing expansion plans as recently as August 2019.

Foresight’s miners also operate other longwall machines, and room-and-pillar mining machines, in other mines, together with the supply chains and conveyor belts needed to service the machines and pull coal up to the surface. Foresight’s four Illinois mine complexes are, in terms of coal dug per worker, among the most productive in the United States. The four mines, together, produce approximately 28 million tons of coal per year. The bankruptcy petition was filed on Tuesday, March 10. Under the bankruptcy petition plan as filed, Foresight Energy will remain in business. It is not known, however, how much of its mine operation will remain active under the plan; and, furthermore, creditors have the right to file objections to the plan with the bankruptcy court.

First sports betting windows open in Illinois. Sports bets on Illinois pro teams were being taken at a major Des Plaines casino on the morning of Monday, March 9. The startup of Illinois sports betting follows enactment by the Illinois General last year of the Sports Wagering Act. Enacted as part of SB 690, the path-breaking measure legalized this new industry in Illinois. Tax revenues from the new industry will be used to fund so-called “vertical capital,” non-transportation infrastructure needs of the State such as public buildings and higher education capital needs.

Illinois universities shifting to online learning. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many public institutions of learning throughout Illinois, including colleges and universities, are taking steps to extend spring break and to alter the operations of the approaching spring term. For example, the Normal, Ill.-based Illinois State University (ISU) has taken steps to close its campus, including residential facilities. Spring break at ISU has been extended until March 23 as teaching staff revise their work schedules and prepare to offer coursework online. Online coursework will be offered by ISU until either April 12 or a date to be announced, depending on circumstances.

Illinois unemployment down to 3.5%. The January 2020 unemployment numbers were released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 3.5% unemployment rate, which counts persons who are in the labor force and actively looking for work, signal widespread job availability. More than 6.13 million Illinoisans, a record number, were working in nonfarm payroll jobs in January 2020.

The drop in Illinois’ unemployment rate from 3.7% in December 2019 to 3.5% in January 2020 created a further feature of importance for the Land of Lincoln. This was the first month since the 2008-09 economic recession in which Illinois’ unemployment rate was lower than that of the United States as a whole. The national unemployment figure was 3.6% for the same month. Illinois’ job figures, broken out by sector, indicate that significant numbers of new jobs have been created over the past year in sectors such as educational services, health services, and financial activities.

Since January, the economies of Illinois and the United States have been affected by preparations for the current COVID-19 outbreak. Many people are expected to be out of work, and this unemployment figure should spike upwards temporarily during the spring 2020 months. Unemployment benefits will be provided to the people affected by this incident to the extent allowed by federal law.

Sheriffs file lawsuit against new Corrections policy apparently ordered by governor. The policy purports to enforce a new Illinois law, enacted by partisan majorities in May 2017, that was enacted in opposition to federal immigration policies. Public Act 100-463 changed the law in various ways to reduce cooperation between Illinois law enforcement on the one hand, and U.S. customs and border enforcement police on the other. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers rely upon continuous, day-to-day cooperation with local law enforcement to maintain the immigration laws of the United States.

More than two and a half years after the enactment of the Illinois TRUST Act, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has now embarked upon a new policy. At the apparent direction of the Pritzker administration, this new policy extends the reach of PA 100-463 in a direction that is widely believed to be unprecedented. ICE and its dedicated law enforcement officers are continuously finding, and locating, persons with unclear U.S. immigration status. Some of these persons are in custody for serious criminal offenses; this group includes violent, non-citizen convicted felons incarcerated within the IDOC. Up until now, ICE has been able to issue valid, enforceable detainer requests against these individuals. If an individual has an enforceable detainer request against them, it is federal law that they should be detained upon release. Under the new IDOC policy, however, individuals in this group are not released into the custody of ICE. Instead, they are being released into various Illinois communities, endangering public safety.

Many sheriffs and police chiefs with jurisdictions over these communities are deeply concerned by and in total opposition to this new IDOC policy. Four Illinois local law enforcement officials, the sheriffs of Kankakee, McHenry, Ogle, and Stephenson Counties, have filed a lawsuit against the policy. The lawsuit was filed on Monday, March 9. Many Illinois House Republicans, including Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, have spoken out in favor of Illinois law enforcement and against the IDOC policy.

Batinick, Mazzochi on pensions, property tax reform and ending corruption. Reps. Batinick and Mazzochi discuss state pensions, property tax reform and ending corruption in state government.

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