Week in Review: Covid-19 rules, ethics, budget & more

Governor’s new rule could be used to impose heavy fines on businesses that do not enforce face-covering requirement. The controversial new emergency rule was filed by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) on Friday, August 7, and went into effect immediately. The rule directs local health officials – police officers, health departments, and parallel offices – to send out written notices and warnings to businesses that allow employees or customers to violate the COVID-19 facial covering emergency public health orders. The written statements will issue strong advice to the recipient, and will state that failure to comply with the orders could result in the recipient being charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If a recipient of a written notice or warning is seen by local health law enforcement as not responding to the notice, the name of the recipient place of business can be referred to the local state’s attorney for further action. A business entity found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor may be sentenced to pay a fine of up to $2,500. Furthermore, should a small business be charged with multiple violations of the facial-covering orders, multiple fines could be imposed. Many questions have been raised about the wording of the new rule and the policy behind it. Local health officials can be expected to enforce this new rule in different ways, and there is not likely to be consistent enforcement throughout the state. The Illinois Policy Institute, which disagrees with the rule, describes it as treating businesses as criminals.

The IDPH rules went before the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for scrutiny on Tuesday, August 11. At the JCAR meeting, all three House Republican members of the committee described serious problems that they had heard from their constituents about the new rule, and appealed to their colleagues to join with them in a motion to suspend the troubled edict. The House Republicans stated they were not opposed to face coverings, but wanted the State to develop and implement a workable rule that will be widely obeyed throughout the state. Six of the eleven members present in the committee voted for the motion. However, a loophole in State law required that Rep. Reick’s motion get the “yes” votes” of a three-fifth’s supermajority of the Joint Committee, or eight members. The motion was not adopted, and the rules continued in place.

Continued coronavirus diagnoses in Illinois. Many Illinoisans continued to fall ill with COVID-19 in new testing numbers released daily this week by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Testing results indicate that the number of positive (confirmed) cases of COVID-19 in Illinois has passed 200,000. As of Thursday, August 13, approximately 95% of the persons known to have contracted the coronavirus had recovered, and less than 3.9% - 7,696 Illinoisans – had died.

The 200,427 positive coronavirus cases confirmed by laboratory testing were the result of more than 3.2 million tests performed. This amounts to more than one test for every four Illinois residents, although many individuals have taken more than one test. Throughout the course of this pandemic a bit more than 6% of the cases have come back positive, a number which began to drop in June and has since leveled off. The virus continues to spread and propagate itself; and, as noted above, the State’s law and guidance continues to strongly request and, in many cases, legally mandate that Illinois residents maintain social distancing and wear face coverings when in public.

ETHICSAs longtime state senator is charged with income tax fraud, House Republicans renew call for ethics reform. A growing probe by federal law enforcement has targeted an increasing number of members of both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly – including individuals at the very top of the legislature’s leadership. In action this week, longtime state senator Terry Link was formally charged with income tax evasion and filing a false tax return.

House Republican Joint Ethics and Lobbying Commission Members React to Democrat Ethics Reform Package, Reiterate Call for Special Session to Address Corruption.

State Representatives Grant Wehrli and Patrick Windhorst, who serve on the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, are offering their reaction to a press conference held by Illinois State Senate and House Democrats touting a “new” package of ethics reform legislation.

The legislative fixes suggested by Senate and House Democrats include multiple ideas already introduced and sponsored by House Republican Caucus members. These include legislative fixes under three categories: lobbying reform, legislative reform, and leadership reform. Specific items include:
  • No legislator lobbyists 
  • Revolving door prohibitions 
  • Clearer definitions of “lobbyist” 
  • Fuller disclosure of outside income for legislators 
  • Establishing an official censure process 
  • Strengthening the office of the legislative inspector general 
  • Ending the exemption for GA Employees from State Human Rights Act 
  • Establishing term limits for legislative leaders 
  • Allowing for temporary removal of leaders from leadership positions or committee chairs if they are indicted
“Senator Manar actually said the Joint Commission on Lobbying & Ethics Reform is working hard, when in truth, we haven’t met since March 5th! We haven’t met in person and we haven’t met on Zoom. Other state committees, commissions and panels have met multiple times since early March, but the Joint Commission on Lobbying & Ethics Reform has not. We did not finalize our work and we did not finalize our report,” said Rep. Wehrli. “Today’s press conference was completely out of touch with the reality on the ground. Every House member that took part in today’s press conference voted to put Mike Madigan in the Speaker’s chair and voted to accept his Rules of his House. While I applaud those who went on the record again today saying the Speaker should resign, this is merely political theater and window dressing. Until these members demand that the Governor call a special session to address ethics legislation and take real steps to remove Mike Madigan as Speaker, this is all just political cover.”

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst says he led an effort to send a letter to Ethics Commission Co-Chairs Senator Elgie Sims and State Rep. Greg Harris, both Chicago Democrats.

“I think Rep. Wehrli and I were well ahead of our colleagues in asking for the Ethics Commission to resume its work. We haven’t met since March,” Windhorst said. “Many of the legislative fixes proposed by House and Senate Democrats today have been introduced in bill form since November 2019. I just wonder where they have been. Corruption in Springfield has been rampant, and the House Speaker is implicated in a serious scheme involving bribery for taking official action. I believe we should return to Springfield in a Special Session to address the state’s serious plague of public corruption.”

On July 24, the Republican members of the General Assembly serving on the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform issued a letter to the co-chairs of the Commission requesting to meet to finish its work and finalize its report that was due at the end of March.

States like Illinois face massive deficits in wake of pandemic. The COVID-19 public health crisis has reduced both employment and economic activity, shutting down tax-supported cash flow at the same time as public-sector institutions face massive new spending pressures. 49 of the 50 U.S. states have balanced-budget constitutional requirements, requiring either emergency budget cuts or unanticipated emergency new debts as red ink spreads across the fiscal spreadsheets. Unlike the federal government, the states cannot print money as a way of dealing with cash flow problems. The Illinois state revenue picture shows severe anticipated fiscal pressures in FY21, the budget and fiscal year that began on July 1, 2020.

Data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) indicates that similar FY 21 pressures are being felt by many states. The NCSL’s survey shows that states with large urban populations, led by California and New York, are especially hard-hit.

Significant looting and property damage in Chicago. The looting incidents were concentrated on the night of Sunday, August 10, through Monday, August 11. A Ronald McDonald House for sick children and their families was reported to be one of the victimized facilities. Some of the business properties that were damaged or destroyed were properties that had been damaged or threatened in a prior wave of unrest that had hit many U.S. cities, including Chicago, in late May and early June.

Many of the looters demonstrated a willingness to disrupt police operations, or to fight with police. In some cases, these incidents were recorded on video and broadcast online. The Chicago Police Department reports that 13 police officers were injured during the night of unrest.

The Illinois General Assembly has taken repeated steps to provide for the charging of persons who attack or injure police officers. The act of battery against a uniformed police officer is the Class 2 felony of aggravated battery, for which a perpetrator if convicted can be sentenced to 3 to 7 years in prison.

Fall term includes continued plans at many schools for remote learning. A survey by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) indicates that for at least the opening weeks of the 2020-21 fall term, many Illinois schools will be resuming the remote learning patterns established in the 2019-20 spring term.

The State Board of Education is not mandating that Illinois public or nonpublic schools convene for in-person learning, or alternatively that they force everybody to learn from home. This is meant to be a series of local decisions made by each school district based upon local conditions, including the progress of the pandemic and the needs of local students, parents, and educators. The ISBE survey was a study of the 850 school districts across Illinois. More than three-quarters of these districts – 671 districts that educate more than 1.6 million pupils – had responded as of Wednesday, August 12. Most of the districts that serve the great majority of the covered students were planning to offer either: (a) blended in-person and remote education, or (b) remote education only. The remote-only option was reported by about 150 districts that serve about 921,000 students, representing more than half of the total students taught by the school districts that had reported to the survey.

Line of storms spawn tornadoes across northern Illinois. The National Weather Service has confirmed that the “derecho” that roared through northern Illinois on Monday, August 10 gave birth to at least fourteen tornadoes in northern Illinois. The entire region endured wind gusts of 60 to 80 mph, wind conditions equivalent to a severe tropical storm. Power outages and property damage was widespread, especially in the area served by utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd). According to poweroutage.com, 759,000 Illinois customers made up the largest share of the 1.9 million Midwestern power customers who suffered service interruptions due to the catastrophic storm. On Friday, August 14, 96 hours after the storm line hit, approximately 55,000 Illinois ComEd customers remained without power.

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