Week in Review: Energy bill, ethics legislation, 9-11 & more


Illinois House passes omnibus energy legislation. The Illinois House of Representatives returned to session in Springfield on Thursday, September 9. On the agenda was a comprehensive energy bill dealing with various facets of Illinois’ energy and electricity supplies. The bill action followed notification to Illinois by Exelon, the operator of nuclear power plants in northern Illinois, that several of its fleet of nuclear plants were unprofitable and, without action by the General Assembly, would soon be decommissioned. This news threatened the operation of two Illinois nuclear power plants, Byron and Dresden. Exelon asked the General Assembly for state regulatory relief so that these two plants could remain open, protecting Illinois’ electric generation capacity and saving thousands of good-paying jobs.
Senate Bill 2408 included significant pieces of energy and climate policy, and there were good reasons for many Illinois House members to vote “no” against the controversial measure. The regulatory relief to keep the Byron and Dresden nuclear plants will add to the electric bills paid by Illinois consumers. Furthermore, the legislation was crafted in such a way as to scale down, and eventually close, most or all of the electricity carbon-burning infrastructure of Illinois. Current Illinois plants that burn coal or natural gas to generate power would have to shut down. This could be seen as threatening not only Illinois’ energy security, but also the jobs of men and women who work at these plants. Furthermore, this bill would do nothing to affect the continued operation of coal-and-gas-fired plants in neighboring U.S. states, which would be encouraged to generate cheap power and sell it to Illinois at a big markup.

Despite these concerns, the Illinois House passed SB 2408 by a vote of 83-33-0. Thursday’s House vote will send the language back to the state Senate for final approval. The Senate will convene on Monday to concur with the House amendments and Governor Pritzker has said that he will promptly sign the bill into law.

State Rep. David Allen Welter, R-Morris, issued the following statement after the Illinois House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve energy legislation, Senate Bill 2408:

“Today we achieved our shared goal of protecting local jobs, keeping our nuclear fleet online, and cementing Illinois’ status as a leading energy-producing state now and into the future. This is a hard-fought victory for all the hardworking men and women of Dresden who never lost hope and advocated so strongly and effectively for our nuclear plants and the vital jobs and tax base they support. I was proud to stand with them from day one. Unfortunately, the process that led us to this to tonight’s vote was broken and frankly an embarrassment. There was no need to delay this vote to September on the brink of Dresden’s anticipated closure. This bill should have been completed back in May. It took this long because Democrats largely shut Republicans out of the process to bring all sides together, which prolonged the anxiety and concern of workers and families whose livelihoods depend on our energy industry. I would like to thank everyone in our community who supported our efforts to cross the finish line after months of frustration, uncertainty and setbacks.”

Deputy House Minority Leader Rep. Tom Demmer issued the following statement:

“There was broad agreement from day one on the importance of Illinois’ nuclear industry to our present and future as an energy-producing state. The facts are clear. More than 2 million homes are served with carbon free electricity produced by hundreds of hard working employees at the Byron Generating Station. The Byron plant provides our friends, families, and neighbors with more than 700 jobs and thousands of additional jobs in the community. The Byron plant pays $38 million annually in property taxes to fund schools, public safety, and local government.

“This bill as a whole is far from perfect. There are several aspects I would have voted No on had they been separated into a standalone bill. Given what was at stake for Byron families and our region, however, I chose to support this bill for our regional economy and for Illinois’ energy future. Without this bill, nuclear plants would close and consumers would face higher electricity rates in order to buy carbon-based power from out of state. Instead, we’re keeping Illinois nuclear plants open and keeping good jobs in our own state. I would like to give credit to Byron workers and local leaders for their unrelenting effort toward our shared goal of protecting a reliable energy grid and a vibrant local economy.”

State Representative Tim Butler issued the following statement in response to the Illinois House passing an omnibus energy package:

“Well over a decade ago, my community made a wise investment to move forward with a reliable, competitive source of power to keep our lights on; a source of power which was approved by the State of Illinois during the Obama-Biden administration. Today, the Illinois House turned the lights out on the community in which the Capitol sits.

“The taxpayers of Springfield will almost certainly be on the hook for paying twice for their energy due to this legislation. My neighbors wanted a reliable source of energy for our future, so we supported the construction of the Dallman 4 unit. Now the state has voted to shut down this municipally-owned, non-profit facility and to trample the rights of private property owners. All our property taxes already go to paying old pension debt, now all our utility bills will pay for closed power plants.

“What was done here today completely ignores the serious harm to jobs and the economic health of downstate and central Illinois communities, along with our municipally-owned non-profit utilities. We are being sacrificed on the altar and at the expense of special interests and investor-owned private utility company profits.”

State Representative Mike Murphy issued the following statement:

“More than a decade ago, City, Water, Light, and Power, a municipally-owned non-profit energy provider, took steps to plan for our energy future in central Illinois and reduce its carbon emissions by building the Dallman 4 plant. That plant followed all the carbon reduction regulations put in place by the Obama-Biden administration. Now, with 19 years left on the bond obligation for that plant, the state of Illinois is pulling the rug out from under our taxpayers’ non-profit energy provider, while down the road a state-run coal-fired plant for state facilities can stay open.

“Not only does this energy overhaul cripple non-profit power plants, but it also gives private power entities the eminent domain authority to build transmission lines across farmland without owners’ approval. All of this is on top of a rate increase, and since we can’t meet power capacity needs without our coal-fired plants, we’ll be buying coal-fired energy from neighboring states. We are rushing to completely alter our energy production at the expense of countless jobs and reliable energy for the sake of special interest and it’s terrible.”

State Representative Charlie Meier delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor against SB 2408. Meier’s district includes the Prairie State Energy Campus, which under the provisions of the bill, must eliminate all carbon emissions by 2045 or face closure.

“This evening the House of Representatives approved legislation (SB 2408) to put Prairie State Energy Campus located in southern Illinois at a competitive disadvantage, leaving the coal-fired power plant in my district with unachievable regulations that will lead to its closure in 2045.

“I voted against this energy bill as it will put hundreds of people out of work in my district, it will increase utility rates, it will result in less farmland, smaller forests, and it will leave our most vulnerable population minutes or hours without electricity to keep their life-saving oxygen machines running to stay alive.

“Most people don’t realize we already face an energy shortage. Southern Illinois has to import energy every day to meet our needs. Currently, Prairie State Energy Campus provides power for 2.5 million residents. On late Thursday night, the House adopted SB 2408 with no plan to replace the power provided to these homes.”

Democrats approve watered-down ethics bill. Illinois House Democrats voted to accept Governor Pritzker’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 539, a watered-down ethics bill that, upon initial passage, led to the resignation of the current Legislative Inspector General. The House vote was 74-41-0, sealing acceptance of the Governor’s amendatory veto language.

The final version of this bill was deeply disappointing to many who had seen the upheavals of the past 12 months as an opportunity for true ethical reforms to Illinois government. A key element that many skeptics pointed to was the future role of the General Assembly ethics watchdog, the Office of the Legislative Inspector General (LIG). The LIG is supposed to be an independent voice against legislator unethical conduct.

Unfortunately, SB 539 took away the Legislative Inspector General’s authority to initiate investigations of alleged corruption or misconduct. Furthermore, the LIG will be required to maintain confidentiality on all of these complaints, including the ones for which he or she receives no permission to move forward with disciplinary investigations or action.

Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope sent her letter of resignation to the Legislative Ethics Commission in July, telling lawmakers that their failure to pass meaningful ethics reform shows “true ethics reform is not a priority.”

Pope testified earlier this year before the House and Senate ethics committees about the need to be able to issue subpoenas without the approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission, publishing reports about investigations and creating a ninth position on the ethics commission for a nonpartisan member who is not a state lawmaker.

“None of these reforms were adopted,” Pope wrote in her resignation letter, arguing that her office’s power was actually restricted under the provisions of Senate Bill 539, by requiring a complaint to be filed before she can launch an investigation. Pope went on in her two-page letter to say the legislative watchdog position has “no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations, the position is essentially a paper tiger.

Before the bill passed in May, state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said she was “really disappointed with this piece of legislation.

“If we are going to show the public that they can have a renewed sense of trust in state government, we’ve got to do something a whole heck of a lot better than this watered-down, diluted — and I think, in some instances, really deceptive — ethics reform,” Bourne said.

House Republican lawmakers have repeatedly urged a new, bipartisan effort to accomplish true ethics reform for the statehouse.

Amid the ongoing federal investigations and indictments infiltrating the General Assembly, House Republicans have pushed for stronger ethics legislation to prevent any future corruption from plaguing the statehouse. Yet, after the resignation of Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, it became clear SB 539 did not go far enough. We need a bill to not only empower the legislative watchdog, but also close gaping loopholes in current laws to ensure the people of Illinois can be confident in their government.

Repeated calls by House Republicans urging Governor Pritzker to utilize his amendatory veto power to create this change went ignored. This is an increasingly common trend with over three dozen meaningful Republican ethics bills remaining in the Rules committee today.

“We can do so much more to reform our ethics laws, and I see this as opportunity to do just that,” said Rep. Bourne, who spearheaded the initial push for an amendatory veto. “We can work together to close loopholes and prevent further corruption—and we have to do that to instill public trust back in our government. Governor Pritzker chose to give cover to unaccountable politicians and made his priorities clear: he’d rather side with corrupt politicians than with the Illinoisans who demand we clean up state government.”

Eight months of violent crime already breaks 2019 marks. Chicago police reports show that crimes of potentially lethal violence, the category that combines murders and nonlethal shootings, are far ahead of previous years. After a series of shooting incidents over the Labor Day weekend, murders and shootings in the first 36 weeks of calendar year 2021 already exceed the entire number tallied in 2019. These dismal numbers were posted with more than three months remaining in the calendar year.

Spikes in lethal and potentially lethal violence afflict many Chicago neighborhoods in 2021. Chicago police leadership has announced increased efforts to patrol certain targeted neighborhoods, but these efforts have failed to stop the violence. Through September 6, 2021, 535 Chicago homicides have been recorded, a level that exceeds 2019 and 2020. Police records show a spike in violence in 2016, a year that saw 762 homicides and more than 4,300 shootings in Chicago. Current trends indicate a reprisal of these numbers in 2021. There was also a spike in lethal Chicago violence in the mid-1990s.

A factor of particular concern in 2021 is the rise in lethal violence against children and juveniles. Chicago children, at risk from drive-by shootings and other incidents of gun violence, are dying at a rate three times higher in 2021 than in 2020.

Illinois honors firefighters on 20th anniversary of 9/11. The Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Medal of Honor Ceremony pays tribute to fire first responders who have fallen in the line of duty, as well as those who continue to serve courageously as Illinois first responders. The ceremony is held annually at the Capitol Complex in Springfield. The Fallen Firefighter Memorial stands near the southwestern corner of the State Capitol. This year’s Ceremony was held at the Memorial on Friday, September 10, one day before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. May we never forget the nearly 3,000 lives lost on that tragic day 20 years ago.

Illinois Department of Employment Security reopens some offices. The Department is mandated to provide in-person employment assistance to unemployed Illinois residents. At the stay-at-home outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, IDES closed all of its offices to public access, and advised persons seeking assistance to consult its “Help Wanted” website. Since the depths of the pandemic in mid-2020, hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have found jobs and rejoined the population of Illinois earners of paychecks, but most of them found jobs through direct employer contact rather than being helped by IDES.

House Republicans have protested IDES’s closed-office policy, and the Department has taken steps to reopen some of its offices. The reopened offices will provide some services to unemployed Illinois residents. New security protocols will demand that persons seeking assistance make a prior appointment. The appointment process will require submission of personal identification information, prior to getting a time slot for face-to-face counseling and assistance. Visitors to IDES offices will have to wear a facemask, and must bring a photo ID to match the identification they have previously provided when making the appointment.

Call for statue of 40th President on Capitol grounds in Springfield. Ronald Reagan, born in 1911, is the only American President to have been born in Illinois. The three other presidents who lived in Illinois (Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Barack Obama) were all born elsewhere. Ronald Reagan, by contrast, was born in Tampico, a small town in northwest Illinois’ Whiteside County. He grew up in nearby Dixon and went to college at north-central Illinois’ Eureka College. Now, Eureka College wants to honor their member of the Class of 1932 with a statue of the young Reagan to be permanently placed on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. The College has worked with its state representative, House Republican Tom Bennett, on this push.

The Illinois House Statues and Monuments Task Force, which is considering the public art installed in and around the Capitol, held a hearing this week to hear from advocates and consider the proposal. Eureka College President Jamel Wright testified that the young Ronald Reagan is an inspirational figure to Illinoisans of diverse backgrounds, noting his identity as a college student with a dysfunctional parental background, as well as his financial challenges throughout his four years of schooling. Reagan overcame these challenges at Eureka, playing on the college football team and balancing work-study life with a double major (sociology and economics). After leaving college during the Great Depression, Reagan was forced to seek paying work outside Illinois, beginning his trek westward that concluded with movie and political stardom in California. House Republican Task Force Spokesperson Tim Butler praised Reagan, calling him a unifying figure whose stature has grown beyond partisan politics to unify Americans of good will.

Two-time gubernatorial candidate Sen. Adlai Stevenson III passes away. Elected to two terms in the U.S. Senate representing Illinois, Stevenson filled the Senate seat once held by Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen and destined to later be filled by future U.S. President Barack Obama. A political heir, Stevenson had his own relationship with U.S. presidential politics through his father Adlai Stevenson II, himself a two-time nominee for the White House in 1952 and 1956. The senior Stevenson was the first Democrat to run television ads while running for the Presidency.

After leaving the U.S. Senate, the younger Stevenson became a serious rival to longtime Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson. He ran against the Republican incumbent in 1982, and again in 1986. The 1982 race was decided in favor of Thompson by less than 5,100 votes, slightly more than 0.1% of the total votes cast. Seeking a rematch, Stevenson instead ran into headwinds in 1986 when his candidacy was upended by the upset Democratic Party primary victory of lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Mark Fairchild. Stevenson refused to run in tandem with Fairchild, who was a member of the so-called “Lyndon LaRouche” wing of American politics. Although historically a Democrat, Stevenson closed out his political career by transferring his gubernatorial candidacy to the newly-formed Illinois Solidarity Party. As the Solidarity candidate for Governor, Stevenson was not the winner but earned more than 1.2 million votes.

Following his second run for Governor, Stevenson moved to the world of finance capital within the Chicago private sector. His later career emphasized investment ties between the United States and East Asia, with an emphasis on China, Japan and Korea. Stevenson passed away, age 90, on Monday, September 6.