Week in Review: Reimagine Illinois, vaccine availability & more


Illinois Senate & House Republicans Introduce the People’s Independent Maps Act. Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Senate Republican Caucus Chair Jason Barickman and House Assistant Minority Leader Tim Butler introduced the People’s Independent Maps Act to allow Illinois legislative redistricting maps to be created by an independent commission, rather than politicians.
“The People’s Independent Maps Act will ensure that politicians, including Gov. Pritzker, keep their promise to the people of Illinois to support an independent redistricting map,” McConchie said. “Under the current process, which was used by Democrats 10 years ago, voters have had fewer choices and the legislature is more unbalanced than ever. The legislation moves Illinois from a broken system where politicians choose their voters to a process where the people choose their politicians.”

The People’s Independent Maps Act, Senate Bill 1325, uses identical language from SJRCA 0004, 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. A similar independent commission amendment co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Chris Welch passed the House in 2016 with 105 YES votes.

“For years, we have continuously heard the Democrats talk about their support for a fair map process when it was politically advantageous, but have done nothing to advance the issue,” Durkin said. “Now is the time for Governor Pritzker and his Democrat colleagues to finally match their words with actions by supporting the People’s Independent Maps Act.”

Current Illinois law allows legislators to draw and approve a map by June 30. This legislation would allow legislators to recuse themselves from the map process all together.

The People’s Independent Maps Act:
  • Gives the Supreme Court the power to appoint sixteen independent, citizen commissioners to the Independent Redistricting Commission within 30 days of becoming law. 
  • The makeup of the Commission would be required to reflect the ethnic, gender and racial demographics of the state. 
  • Party affiliation would be evenly split in addition to members without party affiliation. 
  • Legislators, state employees and lobbyists are prohibited from serving on the commission. 
  • The Commission would be required to hold at least 10 public hearings throughout the state before adopting a plan, with at least four hearings after a map is proposed.
  • The commission will release a map within 30 days of receipt of the census redistricting data. 
  • This legislation would only apply to the 2021 redistricting cycle.
"Communities in Illinois deserve a fair and transparent redistricting process,” said Latino Community Advocate Jesus Solorio. “The People's Independent Maps Act gives a voice to every voter across our state. Candidate Pritzker promised to support an independent, fair, and transparent process and he needs to keep his promise to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised with yet another gerrymandered map."

Good government groups have been pushing for independent commission for decades and more than 600,000 citizens signed a petition to let voters decide on independent commissions in 2015 and 2016. Also in 2016, then-President Barack Obama delivered a speech in the Illinois House Chamber where he specifically called upon lawmakers to change the way districts are drawn with the data from the 2020 census.

“Millions of Illinoisans believe that politicians shouldn't draw their own maps or pick their own voters,” Barickman said. “The people know that if one party rejects an independent process, it only serves to fulfill a partisan purpose.”

Public polls have shown more than 75 percent of Illinois voters support an independent process that puts citizens in control of drawing election districts instead of the politicians.

“The most basic protection against gerrymandering, and the partisan corruption it fosters, is to have a process in place to ensure all citizens are fairly represented,” Butler said. “Establishing an independent commission, removed from partisan politics and subject to public scrutiny is not only logical, but it is overwhelmingly supported by the public. Nearly 600,000 Illinoisans supported an independent commission ballot initiative in 2016. Although Illinoisans were not given the chance to vote for it, there is no reason we can’t create the commission through legislative statute instead. The Governor can prove he was serious about his pledge to support fairly drawn maps by calling on both sides of the aisle to act now.”

Gov. Pritzker has supported independent redistricting on numerous occasions. As a candidate in 2018, he was asked: "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?"

He responded: "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.”

Illinois House Republicans, in alliance with nonpartisan entities such as the Better Government Association, are calling for a Fair Map system for Illinois as an essential element of our Reimagine Illinois platform.

Three-year CGFA budget forecast shows ongoing structural deficit. A nonpartisan budget watchdog agency, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), monitors Illinois’ medium-term and long-term revenue and spending forecasts.

A continuously updated tally published online by the Office of the Comptroller indicates that the State currently has 48,128 backlogged vouchers, better described as unpaid bills in past-due status. These backlogged vouchers represented, at the end of March 2021, more than $4.7 billion in unpaid State bills.

Recognizing this challenge, the General Assembly in 2010 enacted the Emergency Budget Act of Fiscal Year 2011. This law asked CGFA to conduct a series of 3-year budget forecasts for the State of Illinois. The forecast is mandated to list opportunities and obstacles concerning anticipated revenues and expenditures, with the assistance of historical growth-rate trends in revenues and spending. This week, CGFA published their latest “Three-Year Budget Forecast: FY 2022 – FY 2024.”

The CGFA report covers FY22 – FY24, a three-year period beginning July 1, 2021 and ending June 30, 2024. The report anticipates that during this period,, the ongoing trend of State expenditures, based upon existing programs, exceeding State revenues can be expected to continue and worsen. “Keeping up historical spending patterns,” the report warns, will “lead to a backlog of bills between $10 billion and $20 billion depending upon the spending base assumed.” Either figure would represent a near-record or record level of unpaid State bills.

Negative factors affecting the State’s budget outlook during this three-year period include:
  • The continued threat to jobs and private-sector economic productivity generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The preexisting outstanding bill backlog of almost $5 billion.
  • Interest penalty payments due for unpaid bills and other deferred debt servicing.
  • Illinois’ low general obligation (GO) bond rating.
  • Unfunded pension liabilities. Illinois’ state-managed pension systems were only 40.4% of fully-funded status in FY20, representing a burden of unfunded pension liabilities that is currently estimated at $141 billion.
  • Illinois’ status among the 50 states, as measured with variables that include comparatively weak demographics and fiscal instability. 
The nonpartisan CGFA study also includes proposals for partly closing this massive budget gap. These suggestions include maximizing Illinois’ economic advantages, including its standing as a centralized location for North American business, and applying for the maximum possible amount of help from federal government COVID-19 relief programs.

Vaccine availability, virus variants both on upswings. As additional “variants” of the COVID-19 coronavirus continue to spread throughout Illinois and the United States, a wide variety of clinicians are administering a steady stream of vaccination shots to the growing list of Illinoisans who are eligible for the procedure. There are now more than 900 vaccination locations throughout Illinois. In the first wave of vaccinations, limited supplies were offered to persons aged 65 and over and persons with specific eligibility work status. More than 5.0 million shots have already been administered to eligible people throughout Illinois, and vaccinations continue to move forward at a rate of more than 100,000 procedures per day. For most of the vaccine supplies currently available, two shots are required to generate approved levels of immunity.

More vaccine supply is now available in a wide variety of regions throughout Illinois. Steps are now being taken to offer more vaccine appointments, and to increase outreach to eligible people and their families to know they can make an appointment on behalf of themselves or a loved one. A variety of underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, now generate vaccine eligibility in Chicago. Similar expansions are taking place in other regions throughout Illinois.

As new variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus continue to spread in Illinois, public health leaders continue to urge all eligible persons to get vaccinated. High-quality circumstantial evidence, which has not yet gone through peer-review publication in medical journals but is based on reports coming in from all over the world, strongly suggests that approved vaccines possess a significant level of protection against all known variants of COVID-19 at this time.

Starting on Monday, April 12, all Illinois residents aged 16 and up will be eligible to make an appointment and receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sharp decline in community college enrollments during pandemic. In the fall of 2020, with instruction under pandemic conditions, many courses of community college instruction remained unfilled. Much of Illinois’ higher education instruction switched over from in-person learning to remote online learning. Remote learning was attractive in some educational settings, and less attractive in others. In 2020, community colleges throughout Illinois recorded a sharp decline in enrollments and course signups. Total Illinois “two-year college” enrollment dropped nearly 14% from the fall 2019 term to fall 2020.

The drop in enrollments was of special significance to the community college sector, based on the dependence of many local public college budgets on tuition payments and course fees paid by students. Many community colleges throughout Illinois are facing budget crunches, or are demonstrating a dependence on one-time federal pandemic aid payments. Some community colleges are rethinking their business models. The 2020-21 pandemic could encourage community colleges to further de-emphasize the classroom as the sole place for instruction to takes place, and to continue their moves into workplaces and qualifications-certification job training. Moves of this type are supported by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) and other business groups.

Biometric reform needed. In Illinois’ overall pro-trial lawyer atmosphere of court judgements and case law, the phrase “no actual harm” is a key marker. Under overall Anglo-American tort law, the presumption is that if you or I sue someone for damages, we have to prove that we actually got hurt in some way: that “actual harm” was committed, and that this harm can be measured as part of the process of discovery that leads up to a trial or a negotiated settlement.

Trial lawyers dislike the “actual harm” standard. They would much rather have a “no actual harm” standard. In a “no actual harm” standard that involves a complex fact pattern, a plaintiff’s attorney will file a class action lawsuit and then throw out a great big discovery net. The net is supposed to rope in all the facts possible in all directions, including facts that indicate that someone committed a minor violation of some sort of otherwise required procedure or process.

The predictable outcome of a “no actual harm” standard, wherever it is applied, is that a mountain of lawsuits are continuously being filed against businesses in the area of the standard’s application. In 2019, a key Illinois Supreme Court decision applied the “no actual harm” standard to a large swathe of fact patterns surrounding the Biometric Information Privacy Act. During the following year and a half, more than 900 separate class action lawsuits were filed in Illinois, many of them alleging “no actual harm” infringements of the Act, and claiming often-vast sums in damages. At the same time as hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans were suffering real harm and actual damages from actual injuries and loss of electronic privacy – the sort of injury that happens, for example, when one’s Social Security number is stolen – many of these suits were setting forth fact patterns alleging minor and trivial procedural violations.

House Bill 559 would reform enforcement of the Biometric Information Privacy Act by increasing the range of circumstances in which a plaintiff would have to prove actual harm. This change, if enacted, would protect Illinois jobs and businesses. It would reduce time-consuming (and sometimes frivolous) litigation over minor procedural moves within the complex fact patterns that are found throughout the conduct governed by this Act. In so doing, this reform would actually clear the ground for serious enforcement of the biometric privacies of all Illinoisans, by giving all of the key stakeholders an incentive to concentrate their time and effort into cases where real people are suffering real harms from loss of privacy. HB 559 is sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and was supported this week by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

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