Week in Review: Redistricting, public safety & more


Illinois House, Senate hold veto session. The General Assembly convened on Tuesday, October 18, in Springfield. Holding a truncated first week of veto session, the Illinois House and Senate adjourned on Wednesday. When they return on Tuesday, October 25, both chambers of the General Assembly will face the challenges of U.S. congressional remapping, the Illinois budget situation, Illinois’ Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund debts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
New congressional map draws widespread outcry. A first draft version of the Illinois Democrats’ new 17-district Illinois congressional map, containing boundary lines depicting the new districts, was unveiled on Friday, October 15. Commentators pointed out that the new map could be used to generate a congressional delegation that could be tilted towards the Democrats by margins of 14 to 3, or 15 to 2.

Partisan redistricting, to be carried out on this level, ignores the interests of specific Voting Rights Act minority groups. Communities that contain voters from these groups are split up between districts to pack partisan majorities into each district. The tentative new congressional map was seen as highly vulnerable to legal challenge. Similar challenges have already begun against the Democrats’ Illinois General Assembly maps.

The Democrats’ response to the complaints was that they would make small changes to the tentative map, and they expected the amended map to be enacted by both houses of the General Assembly during the second week of veto session to be held during final week in October. If a map similar to this week’s map were to be signed by Gov. Pritzker, litigation would be immediate.

Federal court panel throws out first Democratic Illinois General Assembly map. The late-May 2021 map, enacted by the Democratic supermajorities, purported to be an equal-population-based redistricting of a key Illinois document: the boundaries to govern election districts for the Illinois House, the Illinois Senate, and key facets of the Illinois judicial system. After the Democrats had all voted “yes” for the new maps, 2020 Census numbers released in August proved that the population “numbers” used to draw the May 2021 map had been little more than bad guesses. On Tuesday, October 19, a three-judge federal court panel formally found that the May 2021 map was unconstitutional and void. The decision opened the door for the court to consider a new map that would ensure the State and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection for all Illinois voting residents.

Below is a statement from Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin on Illinois’ redistricting maps being declared unconstitutional in court:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for Illinois citizens, advocacy groups and communities of interest. During this process the Republican caucuses consistently demanded transparency and fairness in mapmaking, which were rejected by the Democrats and Governor Pritzker. The court’s ruling validates all the concerns that were raised during the Democrats’ unconstitutional attempt to gerrymander Illinois.”

After enacting the unconstitutional May 2021 map, the Democrats turned around and passed a second August 2021 General Assembly map. The second map was drawn with actual 2020 U.S. Census population figures, but drew immediate and serious legal complaints of its own. One plaintiff against the “new” map, the NAACP, pointed out that the map had treated the African-American community of East St. Louis like chessboard pieces. Although East St. Louis, a majority-minority community, has traditionally had an Illinois House district of its own, the August 2021 map divided the voters in East St. Louis between three separate Illinois House districts. The apparent goal of this division was to “pack” partisan Democrat majorities into all three districts.

House Republicans Push for End to Unilateral, Emergency Rule. State Representative Dan Ugaste has publicly called for an end to unilateral rule through the excessive use of emergency orders—as Governor JB Pritzker has done for the last year and a half. Rep. Ugaste has filed legislation to ensure legislative involvement in all matters, absent an exigent situation, and for it to be brought forward for consideration in the Illinois House. The bill in question, House Bill 843, was filed by the Representative earlier this year, and although it has near unanimous support from the House Republican caucus, it has yet to earn a committee hearing.

Rep. Ugaste was joined at a press conference Wednesday in Springfield by several colleagues including Representatives Mark Batinick, Avery Bourne, and Norine Hammond, who also support this call to action: demanding the legislature be involved in important decisions not only to represent the views of Illinois residents in the legislature, as lawmakers are elected to do, but to reinforce our system of government.

“At this time, we have gone over 20 months with our Governor issuing emergency orders and statewide mandates as a means to govern; this suits neither the people of Illinois nor our government—and it was not how the people want and deserves to be represented, nor how our government was intended to run,” said Ugaste.

The Representative has made numerous calls—both publically and privately—for his bill to be brought forward, but despite these efforts, nothing has changed. Wednesday’s press conference was another push, while lawmakers are in Springfield for veto session.

“Being back here in Springfield is another opportunity, to ensure that lawmakers can do their job and Illinois residents can have their voices heard,” continued Ugaste. “The last 20 months have made it clear that in order to do that, we need to have legislation in place.”

Current law includes an emergency statute, which the Governor has been continually renewing to account for his actions. Rep. Ugaste and his House Republican Colleagues believe that beyond thirty days, the legislature must be involved to approve further emergency orders.

“The actions, or lack of action as the case may be, of the Governor and majority party in control of both chambers of the General Assembly, have resulted in a co-equal branch of government remaining sidelined with no say at all in the handling of this situation and we cannot continue down this dangerous road,” concluded Ugaste.

For Ugaste and the House Republicans, HB 843 moving forward is the best course of action to ensure democracy is protected—along with the voices of every Illinois resident.

Booster shots: major change to recommendations. In terms of total cases, the “Delta variant” of COVID-19 has produced the second-largest spike in what is now the two-year history of the pandemic. In a new recommendation this week, all eligible persons can get booster shots against coronavirus. With booster shots, vaccinated individuals can increase the strength of their immune systems against “Delta” and additional COVID-19 variants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidelines on booster-shot eligibility. Senior citizens aged 65 and older, persons under 65 who live or work in high-risk settings, and persons under 65 who have underlying medical conditions are eligible for booster shots.

Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and a partnership led by Pfizer have all been administered to millions of Americans. In the first wave of U.S. booster shots, only Pfizer-vaccinated people were encouraged to get a Pfizer booster shot. This, however, changed this week. Scientists have submitted data to authorities that indicates that additional booster shots are effective without specific reference to the identity of the original shot or shots. Additional booster shot recommendations, affecting persons who got Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccinations, have been issued, allowing for mix-and-match booster shots.

A separate cycle of testing, data submission, data scrutiny, and approval is nearing completion for the administration of COVID-19 initial vaccinations to children under age 12. Approval is said to be imminent to administer Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccinations to school-age children ages 5 through 11.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, State Senator John Curran, and Cook County Police Chiefs Highlight New Public Safety Legislation to Empower Law Enforcement in Charging Decisions. Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Illinois State Senator John Curran were joined by suburban police chiefs from Cook County Monday morning to introduce new legislation that will give law enforcement the ability to override the state's attorney's charging decisions, as well as bring transparency and accountability to this process.

"Today's legislation is a major step towards accountability for the Cook County State's Attorney with law enforcement and victims of crime," Leader Durkin said. "This legislation demands transparency in the charging process and gives law enforcement a fair avenue to participate in the criminal court system."

House Bill 4176 will allow local law enforcement the right to override a state’s attorney’s decision not to file felony charges when law enforcement believes clear and convincing evidence exists. Currently, law enforcement has no recourse when charges are declined on a case by an assistant state’s attorney. This bill will give law enforcement the ability to protect public safety and fight for victims and victims’ families when no one else will.

A 2020 Chicago Tribune analysis found that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx “dropped all charges against 29.9% of felony defendants, a dramatic increase over her predecessor.” In one of the latest egregious cases, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office refused to file felony charges in a deadly shootout, citing “mutual combat” because both groups were shooting at each other.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook County is on track to see the highest carjacking numbers in 20 years, with carjackings up 43.5 percent in Cook County this year as opposed to the same time period in 2020. In another tragic case where a seven-year-old was murdered, police officials filed their own charges against the suspect when the Cook County State’s Attorney refused to do so, only to see their charges dropped.

"This proposal brings transparency and accountability to criminal charging decisions made by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office," said State Senator John Curran. "There have been consistent complaints from law enforcement agencies within Cook County about the State's Attorney's charging decisions, oftentimes leaving the public with no information as to why criminal prosecutions are not being pursued while our communities are experiencing a rapid rise in violent crime."

Leader Durkin held a meeting with over two dozen police chiefs from Cook County last week to discuss ways to empower law enforcement when the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office continues to reject charges for violent and felony cases, some of which have resulted in fatalities. Police chiefs from the villages of Riverside and Worth participated in Monday’s press conference. Watch the press conference here.

September 2021 unemployment report. The Illinois statewide unemployment rate dropped from 7.0% in August to 6.8% in September, signaling a month-to-month decrease in unemployed Illinois workers of approximately 14,000 jobs. Net new jobs were created in leisure and hospitality trade, transportation and utilities, and construction.

The state’s unemployment rate was +2.0% higher than the national unemployment rate reported for September, which was 4.8%, down -0.4% from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -3.6% from a year ago when it was at 10.4%.

Amazon announces 4,500 seasonal jobs across Illinois for Christmas-holiday shopping season. The Amazon seasonal positions, to be available at many locations throughout Illinois, will pay an average of $18 an hour. Some sign-up bonuses may be offered in geographic areas with acute labor shortages. America’s largest retailing firm will assign its new seasonal workers to warehouse, transfer-station, and delivery work. Many of Amazon’s customers are Amazon Prime members for the fast delivery of various goods ordered online. Amazon has built, or refitted, a string of facilities throughout North America to enable rapid deliveries. Amazon’s seasonal jobs announcement was made on Monday, October 18.

Major road improvements coming to I-80 corridor. The road and bridge improvements will be paid for through Illinois’ existing capital improvements plan. As announced by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the Interstate 80 package includes additional lanes and interchanges in the often-congested Chicago exurban corridor. Key to the package is a major rebuild of the two aging bridges that carry I-80 across the Des Plaines River in Joliet.

Interstate 80 carries as many as 80,000 daily vehicles through south suburban Will County, a right-of-way centered on the fast-growing Joliet area. Many of the vehicles are heavy trucks. The rebuild work will include extensive construction of eight miles of concrete walls to surround the highway and reduce noise pollution to neighboring communities. The overall project will include 16 miles of Interstate 80 in and around Joliet, including more than thirty bridges. The project is expected to require at least six years to complete, including the Des Plaines River bridge rebuild in calendar years 2026 and 2027. The I-80 announcement was made on Monday, October 18.

Chicago Sky wins their first WNBA championship. The WNBA women’s pro basketball league has played since 1997. The Chicago Sky, founded in 2005, currently plays in Wintrust Arena adjacent to Chicago’s McCormick Place. The 2021 Chicago Sky season saw the team push ahead towards several league-wide honors. Key players Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Candace Parker were selected as WNBA All-Stars, and courtside leader James Wade was selected as June 2021 WNBA Coach of the Month.

In the 2021 WNBA four-round playoffs, the Sky fought back from the less-than-perfect seeding allocated to them based on their regular-season record. Beating Dallas, Minnesota, and Connecticut, the Sky advanced through three rounds of playoffs to the best-of-five WNBA Finals. In the Finals, All-Star Kahleah Copper excelled against the rival Phoenix Mercury and was named the WNBA Finals MVP. Beating Phoenix by a margin of 3 Finals games to 1, the Sky were crowned WNBA champions on Sunday, October 17. A Chicago championship parade honored the winning team on Tuesday, October 19.