Week in Review: FOID, evictions, jobs & more


Availability of ICU beds in Illinois. Illinois is currently in Phase 5 mitigation for COVID-19, with most public activities allowed if people wear facemasks indoors. However, the highly contagious “Delta variant” of COVID-19 is gripping Illinois and the nation, leading to increased coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations. One key variable, the number of available intensive care unit (ICU) beds, continues to show troublesome numbers. Statewide ICU bed availability has been under 20% continuously for the past two weeks, and in mid-September ICU bed availability in Southern Illinois dropped down to zero. These numbers matched the patient counts in states adjacent to Illinois, and states such as Kentucky and Missouri may be putting pressure on Illinois hospital care and infrastructure. 
Executive Orders and state rules affecting schools. State agencies under the control of Gov. Pritzker, including the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), have begun issuing emergency rules and non-rule guidances to govern public conduct during the current “Delta variant” phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Key features of these rules include requirements that health care workers, educators, school personnel, and State facility personnel in congregate settings be vaccinated for coronavirus. Unlike many previous requests and orders in Illinois and other states, the current orders are not presented as voluntary: they are mandated orders.

As the “Delta variant” continues to spread throughout Illinois, outbreaks of COVID-19 are appearing in local schools. Pritzker Executive Order 21-25 purports to provide for rapid and universal testing of students and school personnel in all buildings where a case of the virus crops up, and requires that all persons who test positive be quarantined. Other Illinois rules, including an emergency rule from IDPH, require that positive cases be reported to authorities no more than 3 hours after the test takes place. The combination of rapid reporting and mandatory quarantine is intended to prevent further “Delta variant” outbreaks. The remote learning infrastructure that was in use in school year 2020-21 is supposed to still be in place, and quarantined students are supposed to be able to learn from home.

Illinois had more births than deaths in 2020. This was in sharp contrast with most Midwestern states, which saw an excess of deaths over births (net actuarial loss) during the twelve-month period. Four of the five Midwestern states that border Illinois – Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin – had more deaths than births in 2020, which saw a spike in mortality that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, 3.6 million persons were born throughout the U.S., and almost 3.4 million people died. As with every year in the past 100 years, overall more Americans were born than died, but the gap between the two numbers notched a record low. The near-equality of births and deaths signaled movement towards “zero population growth.” Twenty-four of the 50 U.S. states saw a net actuarial population loss in 2020, including large states such as Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The actuarial numbers were published in a study by the University of New Hampshire.

State policy aims to make Port of Cairo a transfer point for containers and bulk cargo. Traditional Illinois river freight policies center on the seasonal movement of commodities such as coal and grain, and do not consider the fast-growing quantities of cargo that move via international freight container. New technological changes, such as the recent expansion of the Panama Canal, make it possible for global container freight to use the Lower Mississippi River for trans-shipment at the head of lock-free navigation, which is Cairo, Illinois.

The river port of Cairo, located at Illinois’ southern tip, was originally developed with a riverfront oriented towards the trans-shipment of package freight by steamboat. After the steamboat went away, port activity died. The population of Cairo and surrounding Alexander County dropped by 36.4% in the decade ending in 2020. This was a ten-year period marked by the disappearance of much of Cairo’s housing and remaining jobs. Now, the recapitalized Alexander-Cairo Port District has begun work on a new dock facility and freight yard. Key to the facility: multi-million dollar concrete pad cranes to move containers from river vessels onto railroad trains and trucks for trans-shipment throughout the eastern U.S. With many American interstate highways straining against their capacities, shippers could see substantial delivery-time benefits from the new Cairo-based infrastructure under development.

The new facility at the Port of Alexander-Cairo will be located four miles north of the old port, and will need not only concrete and cranes, but also new shoreline roads and rebuilt rail lines to enable the new freight containers to leave the transfer yard. Local Rep. Patrick Windhorst has been one of the leading voices in Springfield to champion the allocation of capital funds and infrastructure support to the new port complex. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.

Pembroke Township natural gas pipeline legislation sponsored by Rep. Haas signed into law. Most Illinoisans have access to gas pipelines that deliver natural gas to their homes. If gas is available, it is almost always the cheapest, safest and most reliable household home heating option. However, some communities in Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township have never had access to piped natural gas. Although the population density of these areas made the Township eligible to lay a gas pipeline, the overall economic challenges of the local area discouraged Nicor, the local gas supplier.

The lack of gas is based upon several factors, including a very different substance, beach sand. In an unusual geological event long before recorded history, a great flood carried large quantities of sand southwest from the Indiana Dunes onto the soil of what is now Pembroke Township.

Responding to the needs of her constituents, Representative Jackie Haas sponsored legislation to create the Pembroke Township Natural Gas Investment Pilot Program. This program will incentivize Nicor to bring a natural gas pipeline into the township. The new pipeline could supply natural gas to up to 400 homes and 22 small businesses, creating jobs throughout the township.

Representative Haas released the following statement in response to Governor JB Pritzker signing House Bill 3403 into law, a bill that Haas sponsored which would bring natural gas service to Pembroke Township—a community within her 79th Legislative District.

“(Today’s) bill signing is a huge win for the people of Pembroke who have been waiting decades for reliable, safe and effective utilities. Not only will this bill pave the way for that to become a reality, it was done in a bipartisan manner—across the federal, state and local levels, which I was proud to lead the charge on. It passed with majorities in each chamber and with the Governor signing it today, it cleared the final hurdle in its legislative journey.

“The Pembroke community has been underserved in terms of utilities for far too long; with the changes that this bill creates, it will provide lasting effects for Pembroke, not only bringing them reliable service but also attracting businesses, jobs, and economic growth.”

Year-long wait for FOID cards. Under Illinois law, no one is permitted to purchase or legally possess a firearm or ammunition within Illinois unless they have an Illinois State Police-issued Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card. The FOID card, and the law that lies underneath it, are both unique to Illinois. No federal law requires gun owners to obtain an ID card before buying or possessing a firearm. The Illinois law was enacted in 1967, and became effective in 1968, during a national wave of “gun control” efforts that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive delays in the Illinois State Police’s background checks of FOID card applicants and issuance of FOID cards. In order to carry out background investigations of FOID card applicants, as State law requires them to do, the State Police has to have a large staff working in a physically secure office with electronic data security. These conditions make it possible to seek out and verify information about an individual applicant’s criminal-law status and mental health status, particularly with respect to patient health-related material that must remain confidential under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

During the current pandemic, crime rates are soaring in parts of Illinois. Many Illinois residents who have not had FOID cards before now are applying for the credentials in order to protect their families and households. In addition, many FOID cards have expired. The great majority of applicants for new FOID cards, and FOID card renewals, are law-abiding Illinoisans who are eligible to get a card issued or renewed, but the State Police cannot mail a FOID card to anyone until they have carried out a background check under required conditions of data security. Thousands of unanswered pleas for FOID cards and card renewals have piled up in the Office of the Illinois State Police, and more applications come in every day. By some estimates, an applicant for a new Illinois FOID card may have to wait as long as 12 months for a card. The State Police reports that the combination of the staffing shortage, a sharp increase in FOID card applications, an inflexible computer system that maintains security only under strict working conditions, and the overall COVID-19 pandemic, have combined to create the current backlog.

State law nominally grants the holders of expired FOID cards the right to continue to use their old cards for the duration of the current public health emergency. The expired cards are being legally treated as if they are still good. However, no case law is in place to verify the validity of expired FOID cards that have been held over in this manner. Many Illinois retail shops that sell guns and ammunition, are stating that they are seriously concerned about possible legal liability to themselves were they to treat an expired FOID card as valid.

At the request of Republican lawmakers, the Office of the Auditor General is currently examining the FOID card and concealed carry license performance of the Firearms Division within the Illinois State Police. Based upon the facts already made public, the Auditor General’s findings are expected to be highly negative. The audit is expected to be released next week.

Eviction proceedings set to resume in Illinois. Under law, if a tenant does not make rent payments their landlord has the right to commence proceedings to enforce the rent contract. In some cases, these proceedings can end with the tenant facing eviction proceedings. Most landlords do not want to evict their tenants; when their relationship gets to this stage it almost always ends with a large nonpayment of rent. Furthermore, eviction proceedings are cumbersome and time-consuming for the landlord, and difficult for the person being evicted.

An eviction proceeding is a civil-courts procedure, with a well-defined series of court filings preceding a court order to evict, and enforcement of the order by law enforcement. Since March 2020, as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, these court filings have been postponed – both nationally and here in Illinois – by a series of moratoriums and executive orders. The U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal eviction moratorium on August 27, 2021, opening the door to start on a nationwide backlog of eviction case proceedings.

Following the end of the federal eviction-proceedings moratorium, a statewide ban – solely applying to court proceedings and eviction enforcements within Illinois – remained in temporary effect here in Illinois. However, the State of Illinois eviction moratorium will soon expire and will not be renewed. A September 17 executive order by Gov. Pritzker lifts the ban on eviction court proceeding and retains, for a final period of only two weeks, the sole remaining legal bar to evictions. Law enforcement is still banned from carrying out most eviction court orders, but the Pritzker executive order states that this sole remaining moratorium will end on October 3, 2021.

Illinois unemployment rate at 6.8% in August. With the United States continuing to recover economically from the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment dropped sharply in 2020-2021 during the 12-month period under comparison. The Illinois unemployment rate fell from 11.0% to 6.8%, from August 2020 to August 2021.

Some metro areas of Illinois had unemployment rates in August that were significantly higher than the overall 6.8% statewide figure. Unemployment in greater Chicago, exclusive of the northern suburbs in and around Lake County and Elgin, which are in different job areas for classification purposes, was 7.5%. Joblessness in traditionally industrial Rockford was 8.3%, and was 8.2% in Central Illinois’ Decatur. By contrast, the comparatively well situated workforce of Lake County north of Chicago had a jobless rate of only 5.3% in August.

Sears announces closure of final Illinois department store. The Sears department store in Woodfield Mall, Schaumberg, will close on November 14, 2021. The once-iconic retailer, which opened its first brick-and-mortar retail store in 1925, has turned in recent years to real estate redevelopment and liquidation. At its peak, Sears Holdings operated more than 3,000 Sears and Kmart stores, but this number has dropped down to 300.

Kiplinger magazine labels Illinois least tax-friendly among 50 U.S. states. The label results from Illinois’ sales tax and property tax rates, which are extremely high in relation to other U.S. states. The editors of Kiplinger magazine asked a data team to create a hypothetical married family, defined as a couple with two children, combined wages and income of $80,000, equity in a $300,000 home, and their financial liabilities as family taxpayers. The resulting economic model placed Illinois at the bottom of the list of 50 states. A typical Illinois middle-class family would be forced to pay an income tax of 4.95% on gross income, a sales tax rate of 8.83% on taxable goods and services, and a median property tax rate of $2,165 per $100,000 of assessed home value. In many regions of Illinois, several of these tax rates are higher than these median levels.

When compared to the other 49 states, Illinois comes out badly in all three major tax ratios. Illinois’ 4.95% income tax rate on taxable middle-class income is slightly above average; its 8.83% median state and local sales tax rate on goods and services is the seventh-highest combined sales tax rate in the U.S.; and its property tax rate is second only to New Jersey (with lower sales tax rates than Illinois, New Jersey is the fourth-worst tax state in the U.S. on the Kiplinger scale). Kiplinger suggests that young families consider moving to states in the so-called Sunbelt with much lower tax rates, such as Arizona, Florida, and Tennessee.