Week in Review: Redistricting, Reimagine, jobs & more

Hollow Democrat Promises for Fair Maps Highlight State’s Ethical Failings. Despite the past documented evidence of Illinois’ Democrat leaders, including Governor JB Pritzker and new House Speaker Chris Welch, stating support for a fair, transparent and non-partisan redistricting process, they continue to press on with the current partisan process. This week, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Assistant Minority Leader Tim Butler and Assistant Minority Leader Ryan Spain again laid bare the hollowness of Democrat leaders’ past promises and pointed to how it further exacerbates the cloud of corruption and public mistrust in the state.
“Democrats have claimed to be in support of fair maps for years, but when it comes to real action they always go back on their word,” Durkin said. “Every opportunity to implement fair maps has been met with rejection by the Democrats. Their record speaks for itself.”

In 2016, then State Representative Chris Welch co-sponsored HJRCA 58 to create an independent redistricting commission, which later passed the House with 105 YES votes. He even published an op-ed supporting the measure and stated, “The redistricting, or ‘remap,’ of state legislative districts that’s mandated by law to occur after the U.S. Census every 10 years is very important. Unfortunately, the process has often been criticized as too political and one where voters are left without a voice.

“To address these issues, I’m supporting House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 58 (HJRCA 58), which is a comprehensive, bipartisan measure that will put an independent commission in charge of drawing state legislative district boundaries and protect minority representation.”

Before the current partisan redistricting process began this spring, Republicans filed the People’s Independent Maps Act, Senate Bill 1325, using identical language from SJRCA 4, a constitutional amendment for an independent redistricting commission introduced by Sen. Julie Morrison in 2019. That resolution garnered 37 co-sponsors in the Senate including 18 Democrats and was nearly identical to the 2016 HJRCA 58 that Welch co-sponsored.

In addition to Welch, Pritzker is on the record multiple times advocating against partisan redistricting and for fair maps.

“Governor Pritzker, who has previously expressed strong support of a citizen-led redistricting commission, continues to be silent about the current partisan process being carried out,” said Butler. “Supporting transparency and involving citizens in actually drawing maps sounds good to many politicians on the campaign trail, but unfortunately the actions this year speak much louder than words to the Democrats in Illinois.”

Although more than 30 redistricting hearings have taken place this spring, Assistant Minority Leader Spain pointed to the hypocrisy of using the far less accurate American Community Survey (ACS) population data during the, so far, partisan process.

“We have a choice here,” said Spain “We have a choice to not just hear, but actually listen to, the testimony being provided to us at each of these hearings. If we want to do right by advocates in protecting communities of interest, about adhering to the State and Federal Voting Rights Acts, we must allow the extra time to get the US Census data and not waste the monies we spent in pushing high census participation in Illinois by proceeding with flawed data.”

In 2018, then-candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker was asked this redistricting question by Capitol Fax’s Rich Miller: “This requires only a simple yes or no response: Will you pledge as governor to veto any state legislative redistricting map proposal that is in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies? The exception, of course, would be the final official draft by LRB.”

Pritzker’s response was: “Yes, I will pledge to veto. We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map. That designated body should reflect the gender, racial, and geographic diversity of the state and look to preserve the Voting Rights Act decisions to ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process.”

In his 2018 gubernatorial candidate questionnaire in the Northwest Herald, then-candidate Pritzker stated, “…and I support ending the gerrymandering of districts to encourage more competitive elections.”

The Governor again reiterated this position after his 2020 State of the State Address by promising to “veto any unfair map that gets presented to me.”

House Republicans call for re-prioritizing policy to put public safety first. Recent increases in deadly violence requires bipartisan action to fight against violent crime and to support law enforcement officers and first responders. The “Safe Communities” plank of the Reimagine Illinois platform calls for reforms in four key areas – law enforcement training, supporting first responders, reforming the broken processes facing law-abiding gun owners throughout Illinois, and revisiting Illinois’ very controversial new law that allows violent criminals to be released prior to trial without posting a bail bond.

During the first quarter of 2021, Chicago chalked up more deadly violence than in any of the three previous years. With homicides spiking one weekend after another, this is no time to reduce penalties for serious and violent crimes in Illinois.

Vaccination progress in Illinois. As of the start of this week, more than one-quarter of Illinois’ population had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Health care providers had completed more than 3.36 million vaccinations. Recipients of the COVID-19 vaccination procedure have received a counter-stamped vaccination card that follows a format laid out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The card, filled out by health care professionals who administered the injection(s), shows the key date(s) of the procedure(s).

Many of Illinois’ 12.8 million residents are progressing towards full vaccination. State and local health officials have distributed more than 9.9 million vaccine doses throughout Illinois. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, they have administered almost 8.1 million of them, with ample supplies on hand for persons who have made appointments. The number of shots administered is more than double the number of Illinois residents who have competed the procedures. During this peak-vaccination period, well more than 1 million Illinois residents on any given day have gotten a first injection but have not yet received a second.

All Illinois adults aged 16 or older are now eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The disease continues to be contagious throughout Illinois, with thousands of new cases diagnosed every day. A substantial percentage of the persons who are diagnosed with this illness have to undergo hospital treatment, which in some cases leads to intensive care (ICU) treatment or placement of a patient on a ventilator. The ICU beds of many Illinois hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients. In a typical bed count, as of Wednesday, April 21, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria was reporting 97% occupancy, with little space remaining for new patients with acute illnesses of all sorts.

Rivian announces June startup date for Bloomington-Normal plant. The announcement marks the restart of active motor vehicle assembly work in Central Illinois. Rivian will begin to assemble electric-powered light trucks at the former Mitsubishi DiamondStar plant in McLean County. The 1980s-era DiamondStar factory, built with the help of Chrysler and the State of Illinois, once made 200,000 motor vehicles a year. However, the interior of the factory had to be almost completely torn out and rebuilt, as the old plant made vehicles powered with liquid fuel. The plant renovation cost $1.2 billion.

With a business plan that concentrates on extended-chassis light trucks, pickup trucks and SUVs, Rivian occupies a niche in the burgeoning electric-vehicle industry. The firm has signed a contract with Amazon to deliver 100,000 delivery vans, in line with the online retailer’s pledge to reduce its global carbon footprint. Consumer offerings include an SUV described in the motor press as having the fast-acceleration power that customers have come to demand in electric vehicles. The SUV is said to be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds.

The Rivian plant will employ more than 1,100 workers, most of whom are already on site. Despite heavy startup expenses, Rivian is currently a hot name in private equity. Rivian’s plant, technology, intellectual property and brand name are estimated to be worth about $28 billion.

Proposed Chicago casino moves forward. As part of Illinois’ 2019 gambling expansion, the General Assembly took steps to authorize what could become one of the largest single places of employment in Chicago – a new, centrally located casino and hospitality complex. The casino could have as many as 4,000 gaming positions, which would make it more than three times as large as the floating spaces operated by traditional “riverboat” casinos. After a lengthy delay associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago’s City Hall put the new law and its casino specifications out to the industry in a request for proposals.

Under the published specifications, the new development would have to include a hotel and live entertainment complex. With up to 500 hotel rooms, the facility would create many full-time jobs. The developer would have the right to run satellite slot machine rooms in Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway International Airports.

Illinois House passes term limits for legislative leaders. The Illinois House approved legislation this week that would impose term limits on legislative leaders so that no person may serve more than 10 consecutive years as Speaker of the House of Representatives, President of the Senate, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives or Minority Leader of the Senate.

“Passing this bill would have been impossible just a few short months ago, during Mike Madigan’s decades-long grip on power,” Representative Keith Wheeler said. “Now, finally, we are able to turn the page on a bipartisan basis and chart a new path forward together. No longer will power be concentrated in the same few people in Illinois for an unlimited period of time. This is one small but important step to begin restoring public faith in state government and accountability to the legislative process.”

“Instituting statutory term limits on leadership positions of the Illinois General Assembly is a historic achievement that I am proud to have co-sponsored and supported. Illinoisans have paid the price of corruption resulting from political power being too concentrated for too long. Today’s vote marks a meaningful step in the right direction”, said Rep. Jackie Haas upon passage of the bill.

“This reform piece of legislation establishing term limits is key to avoiding the consolidation of too much power and control by one person like we saw for four decades under former Speaker Michael J. Madigan,” said Rep. Blaine Wilhour. “My expectation is that this is just the start of a whole package of reforms that we need to see in Illinois.”

Next, House Bill 642 will advance to the Senate for consideration. The bill was approved by a vote of 115-0-1 in the House, indicating lawmakers’ bipartisan support for restoring the public’s trust in state government. If enacted, the measure would take effect at the start of the 103rd General Assembly in January of 2023.

Continued dismal jobs news from Illinois metro areas. Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported Illinois’ March 2021 unemployment rate to be 7.1%. This week, IDES and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics went back to their March 2021 numbers to report them by Illinois’ major metro areas. As with the statewide rate, the count found high unemployment rates in many regions of Illinois. In the Chicago-Naperville area, which includes Cook and DuPage Counties, the March 2021 jobless rate was 7.7%.

Other Illinois metro areas showed high unemployment rates in March 2021. The Lake County rate was 6.2%; and the Elgin rate, which reflects trends in west suburban Kane County, was 7.0%. Downstate regions with significant jobless numbers included Decatur (8.6%), Kankakee (7.5%), and Peoria (6.9%).

These jobless numbers reflect the loss of more than 358,000 non-farm Illinois payroll jobs since March 2019, when the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation orders began to take effect. Almost 90% of these lost jobs, more than 315,000 jobs, were in the three largest Chicago-area metro areas. The pandemic had an especially severe impact on specialized metro service jobs – such as hotels, restaurants, air travel, conventions, and business-related hospitality – that are characteristic of America’s largest cities. Industries like these are only beginning to recover from the 2020 economic downturn.

Illinois Capital Development Board Announces Design Firm for $80 Million Rebuild Illinois Funded Central Computing Facility in Springfield. The Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) has selected Exp U.S. Services, Incorporated as the preferred architectural design firm for the new Central Computing Facility in Springfield. CDB will oversee the project's design and construction in accordance with the protocol for state-appropriated projects.

Through the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the first in nearly a decade, nearly $80.5 million was appropriated to CDB for this project. The project includes the design and construction of a new computing facility to be used by the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology.

The historic Rebuild Illinois capital plan passed with bipartisan super-majorities and will invest $45 billion in roads, bridges, railways, universities, early childhood centers, and state facilities like the new crime lab and veterans' homes, creating and supporting an estimated 540,000 jobs over the life of the six-year plan and revitalizing local economies across the state.

Trailer license plate fee cut blocked by House Democrats. Despite broad bipartisan support for measures to reduce the tax Illinois levies on trailers, legislation has failed to advance.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, has House Bill 636. There are 62 co-sponsors on the bill, more than enough to pass the House with a simple majority of bipartisan lawmakers.

Bourne said there are nine identical bills from Republicans and Democrats that decrease the trailer fee that was increased in the governor’s capital bill enacted in 2019.

“I don’t need my bill to be the one to pass, but this is a terrible, terrible thing that we are not able to repeal this huge increase that went from $18 for the Boy Scouts to pull a parade float to $118,” Bourne said Wednesday.

When the House Rules were being crafted, Bourne said she asked if there could be a rule to allow votes on a bill if there are enough cosponsors to pass.

“The answer was ‘no,’ and I was kind of laughed at,” Bourne said. “They said ‘that doesn’t happen, we don’t get the majority of the body cosponsoring a bill and not get a vote,’ but it is happening right now.”

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, who is the chairman of the House Revenue and Finance Committee, said despite having more than enough cosponsors to pass the measure in the House, he won’t let it out of committee.

“Until I’m provided with a funding alternative, I’m not going to willy nilly send every single bill to the floor,” said Zalewski, D-Riverside.

The following day on the House floor, state Rep. Tim Butler said the fee increase wasn’t negotiated as part of the governor’s capital plan. Some Republicans said they were told it was a drafting error, but Butler said it’s led to as many as 150,000 fewer trailer plate renewals and needs to be addressed because people can’t afford it.

“Because it is something that we’ve talked about, and talked about, and talked about, and it drives the public nuts when they contact our offices and nothing ever gets done on something that would be easy to fix,” Butler said.

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