Week in Review: Fair maps, veterans, Real-id & more


Pritzker flip flops on independent map pledge. Gov. J.B. Pritzker backed away Tuesday from a campaign promise to veto any new legislative map that wasn’t drawn through an independent process, now saying that he trusts state lawmakers to be fair.

At a Springfield press conference this week, Governor Pritzker was asked about his veto pledge and this was his response: “Well as I said I will veto an unfair map. I have also said that in order for us to have an independent commission, we needed to have a constitutional amendment, something that would actually change the way the process operates today in the Constitution. That did not happen. So now, as we reach the end of this session and I look to the legislature for their proposal for a redistricting map, I’ll be looking to it for its fairness. And that’s something that’s vitally important for our state, as an effect on the next 10 years and representation throughout the state.”

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 Republican Leader Jim Durkin responded to Governor Pritzker’s statements walking back on his pledge to veto partisan maps:

“The Governor seems to suffer from retrograde amnesia on this important topic. The Governor needs to lead and ensure that an independent body draw the maps as he promised.”

Speaking on the House floor, State Rep. Tim Butler once again called on Gov. Pritzker to stand by his past support of an independent redistricting commission and his pledge to veto any partisanly drawn redistricting map.

Sign our petition if you believe the Governor should be held accountable for his promise to the people of Illinois.

Illinois loses one seat in Congress. Numbers from the 2020 nationwide population count, released from the U.S. Census Bureau this week, confirm that Illinois will lose one congressional district to the Sun Belt. Illinois, which currently elects 18 members to the U.S. House, will see this number reduced to 17 in the November 2022 general election. High-tax states – a list that, for the first time, includes California – will give up seven seats in the U.S. House. The net beneficiaries are a list of largely low-tax states, mostly in the southern U.S. and headed by Florida and Texas. Six of the seven seats that are changing hands come from the traditional coal-and-steel heartland that surrounds the American Great Lakes. Three states – Illinois, Mississippi, and West Virginia –lost population over the ten-year period.

Speaking at a press conference following the U.S. Census releasing apportionment data showing that Illinois is one of only three states to lose population and one of seven to lose a seat in Congress, Rep. Tim Butler said it is more proof of the failed policies of Democrats who control state government.

‘Nobody Seemed To Know What To Do’: Blistering Report Outlines Illinois’ Failure To Protect Vets From Deadly COVID Outbreak. An internal watchdog report blamed “inadequate leadership” in Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration, including a former agency director who “abdicated” her duties, for a COVID-19 outbreak last fall at the state-run LaSalle Veterans’ Home that killed dozens of residents.

The long-awaited report by the acting inspector general of the Illinois Department of Human Services, Peter Neumer, revealed a lack of preparation, poor communication and training and an ignorance of proper infectious-disease protocols that combined to create one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the state.

“The lack of a comprehensive COVID-19 plan, including the absence of any standard operating procedures in the event of an outbreak within the Home, was a significant contributing factor to the home’s failure to contain the virus,” Neumer wrote in his report. “The risks concerning transmission and control of COVID-19 were well known by October 2020, yet the home lacked any formal preparedness and response plan.”

All told, the November COVID-19 outbreak at LaSalle claimed 36 veterans’ lives and resulted in 109 other veterans and 116 staff members testing positive for the virus.

As the situation roared out of control at LaSalle, conditions inside the home were described with such superlatives as a “whirlwind,” “frantic” and “chaotic,” with one nurse telling Neumer that “nobody seemed to know what to do.”

His report, obtained by WBEZ, was commissioned by the governor.

Illinois House calls for investigation of coronavirus outbreak at LaSalle Veterans Home. The Illinois Auditor General has been directed to conduct a performance audit of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) and the viral mitigation practices that should have been, but were not, in place at IDVA’s LaSalle Veterans Home in 2020. The directive was contained in House Resolution 62, sponsored by State Rep. David Welter, which was approved by the Illinois House on Wednesday, April 28.

Bill backlog now at $3.3 billion. The State of Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills has dropped to $3.3 billion in numbers published by the Office of the Illinois Comptroller this week. Although this is still a significant bill backlog that adds up to 9,000 unpaid bills, it marks a sharp decline from the $16.7 billion in unpaid bills in November 2017. The 2017 past-due spike marked an extended period of time when the State was unable to enact a budget for more than two years.

Credit markets have noticed, and partly acknowledged, the Illinois fiscal situation. The State of Illinois’ current General Obligation (GO) debt trades at a premium of 90 basis points to the debt of better-managed public-sector entities. Top-rated public-sector units of government are able to get the coveted ‘triple-A’ (AAA) rating from global credit rating offices. By contrast, Illinois’ GO debt is ranked ‘BBB-‘, the lowest ranking available to an entity that is not selling those classes of non-investment-quality debt that are colloquially called “junk bonds.” Although BBB- is a low rating, Illinois taxpayers are now paying only 0.9% more in interest per year than they would be paying on our State’s debt if Illinois had a triple-A rating.

Vaccines available at all Illinois locations. Patients are required to be adults who are at or over age 16, and are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. More than 1,000 locations (Vaccination Location (illinois.gov)) are administering first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) continues to supervise and watch over the vaccination process. The vaccinations themselves are done by private-sector contractors and by local public health clinics. Illinois residents who are not able to make appointments electronically can call the IDPH hotline number, 833-621-1284, to book an appointment.

Many Illinoisans have already begun or completed the vaccination process. More than 10.9 million doses of vaccine have been delivered to Illinois, more than 8.8 million doses have been administered, and new shots are taking place at a rate of more than 100,000 per day.

Alexander-Cairo Port District gets new investment. At the southern tip of Illinois, Cairo is located where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers come together. This municipality was a small city in the 1800s and early 1900s. This was the age of sidewheel steamboats, as many workers labored to load and unload old-fashioned cargo vessels using wheelbarrows. The Illinois Central Railroad was built to connect Chicago and Cairo; and like the northern city, Cairo had its own federal office building, streetcar line, and department stores. After bulk cargoes shifted to containers, however, riverboats ceased to stop in Cairo, and the location entered a century-long period of decline. Cairo’s population dropped to an estimated 2,120 (as of 2019).

The Alexander-Cairo Port District has put together a financial plan and financing timeline to construct container-shipping infrastructure in Cairo. The railroad line continues to operate, and is located next to Interstate 57. Representative Patrick Windhorst has helped to put together what will be the first phase of this port construction/rebuild. The project is being financed as part of Rebuild Illinois. An estimated 500 skilled workers will move steel into place, pour concrete, and create platforms for the heavy cranes and other infrastructure that will be able to move goods on and off river barges. A labor agreement to cover the hiring of these new workers was announced on Tuesday, April 27.

House Republicans call for IDES audit, unemployment offices to reopen. The Illinois unemployment rate dropped to 7.1% in March. However, this represented more than 450,000 Illinois residents who continued to be unemployed and actively searching for work, in addition to other Illinoisans who have dropped out of the labor force. Tens of thousands of Illinoisans have struggled to sign up for unemployment benefits, and billions of dollars have been paid out in Illinois unemployment checks.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has not reopened its in-person offices to provide help to Illinoisans with claims for unemployment benefits. The IDES offices are still closed to the public. At the same time, based on the automated computer system used by the Department (which has allowed many people to sign up for benefits remotely), cash has flooded out. The IDES unemployment insurance trust fund is now more than $5 billion in the red, a massive sum that will have to be paid back. The deficit could be repaid in the form of higher UI taxes paid by Illinois employers, lower benefits paid out to unemployed Illinoisans, or both.

On the House floor Wednesday, State Rep. Joe Sosnowski called for state unemployment offices to reopen immediately.

“Why are our unemployment offices in the state of Illinois still closed,” Sosnowski said. “It is now almost the month of May 2021, and our unemployment offices around the state are closed. I don’t believe this is a political issue. I know members on both sides of the aisles have the same concern.”

He said his House Resolution 226 has bipartisan support “asking that our unemployment offices be opened immediately.”

“This is a governance issue, this is a leadership issue, this is not a political issue,” Sosnowski said.

The IDES system has been plagued with backlogs, reports of fraud, and looming questions of how employers’ unemployment insurance taxes will be impacted by the historic costs.

Working with unemployed Illinoisans and other stakeholders, House Republicans have taken the lead in calling for action to respond to the problems at IDES. House Joint Resolution 17 directs the Illinois Auditor General to conduct a performance audit of the troubled Department and its handling of the Unemployment Insurance Act. State Rep. Chris Miller’s call for an IDES audit was unanimously approved by the House State Government Administration Committee this week.

Future of two Illinois nuclear power plants under discussion. The application of high technology to electrical grid service has made it possible to generate large amounts of power from widely distributed sources. This includes, but is not limited to, wind farms and peaker plants that burn natural gas. The need for large, centralized electrical generating plants is not as significant as it used to be. Some centralized plants, particularly heavy turbines that burn coal, have shut down or have owners that have announced shutdown plans.

This also applies to nuclear power plants. Although uranium-based electricity does not release any carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere, the huge generating plants that produce nuclear power are just as vulnerable to changing electric-grid technology as coal plants are. Financial studies have shown that two Illinois nuclear power plants, located in Byron and in Dresden, could soon move under the financial line that separates a viable asset from a non-viable one. The plants are owned by Exelon, parent company of Commonwealth Edison.

Illinois electricity, and Commonwealth Edison, have been the subject of serious discussion for many months. This discussion includes questions of corruption and the relationship between Commonwealth Edison and the Illinois General Assembly. ComEd is currently the subject of a deferred prosecution agreement related to alleged criminal conduct involving the utility, Chicago power brokers, and former lawmakers, including former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

The nuclear plants are major assets for their communities, supporting thousands of jobs. Lawmakers from the communities where these plants are located have filed proposed legislation to try to save the plants. HB 1472contains ethics language to tie any aid Exelon’s nuclear power plants may get to internal controls, policies, practices, and procedures to ensure future corporate ethical conduct.

Drivers’ license renewal extended; old licenses will continue to be valid for federal purposes. As part of the Global War on Terror, Congress enacted the REAL-ID Act more than fifteen years ago. This Act is supposed to transition the state-issued ID cards of the United States into much more secure documents. A valid REAL-ID card, issued by the Illinois Secretary of State, can be distinguished by having a white star printed inside a gold circle. People with REAL-ID cards have presented documentation to prove up their valid residency or citizenship. In return for presenting these documents, they have gotten an identification card that was manufactured in a secure location with hard-to-counterfeit technology.

Under the provisions of federal law that were valid up until this week, the REAL-ID card was supposed to become a nationwide mandate on October 1, 2021. On and after that date, Americans residents who wanted to enter a federal building or fly on a plane would have been asked to show REAL-ID-compliant identification. This deadline has now been extended. Many of the 50 states, including Illinois, have cut back their drivers’ license facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of closed public offices and reduced office hours, not everybody who wanted to get a new identification card has been able to get one. This week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the October 2021 REAL-ID compliance deadline to May 3, 2023.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has acknowledged the DHS ruling. Illinois drivers’ licenses will not have to comply with REAL-ID until May 3, 2023, the new deadline set by federal law. Illinois has taken further action to extend the validity of current Illinois drivers’ licenses. Currently expiring Illinois drivers’ licenses and ID cards will not expire until August 1, 2021. The Secretary of State and his Division of Driver Services continue to encourage all Illinoisans to take action to renew their licenses. In some cases, including persons who already have REAL-ID-compliant identification that is up for renewal, the licenses can be renewed online at www.cyberdriveillinois.com. Commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs) are not covered by this Illinois drivers’ license extension.

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