Week in Review: Minimum wage, Inspector General, redistricting & more


Illinois General Assembly begins 2022 with a one-day session. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing and case counts surging, the General Assembly reconvened this week to begin its 2022 session. The current schedule calls for the members of both chambers to meet continuously from January through March. Next week’s session has been canceled, as in-person meetings are challenged by soaring COVID-19 positivity case counts, and the House and Senate have changed their rules to do some of their business remotely. Of particular significance are the current rules for House committee meetings and testimony: each House committee will conduct its meetings via video conferencing. Witnesses who wish to testify will submit their testimony and answer questions electronically.

The House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn the spring session on Friday, April 8, in advance of the June primary election. The adjournment date is one week before Easter. The election immediately after the last U.S. Census, 2022, is a redistricting election year in which all of the members of both chambers that are choosing to run for re-election will have to file in districts with new boundaries. This will apply to both the primary election in June and the general election in November. In addition, every House and Senate seat will be on the ballot. This is always true for Illinois House members, who must run for re-election every two years; but the Illinois Constitution grants members of the Illinois Senate several election holidays. Each Illinois Senate district reappears on the ballots of its voters three times in every 10-year period.

All bills filed in the 2022 spring session will be tracked on the General Assembly website. If a bill is posted for a House committee hearing, all Illinoisans – including those not present in person in Springfield – will be able to register their support for or opposition to the bill in the General Assembly dashboard app.

Illinois has no Legislative Inspector General as Democrats stall appointment process. In July 2021, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced that she would be leaving office, citing the failure of the General Assembly to pass meaningful ethics reform.

Pope, a former prosecutor and appellate court judge, tendered her resignation in July. She called the office a “paper tiger” and blasted lawmakers saying they “demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority.” She originally said her last day would be Dec. 16, but agreed to stay on until the Jan. 6 to allow more time for her position to be filled.

As of this week, the Office of Legislative Inspector General is vacant. Republican Senator Jil Tracy, who chairs the Legislative Ethics Commission, blamed the delay on appointing a new LIG on Democrats.

“Confirming a candidate before LIG Pope left has always been my top priority. It is unfortunate that my goal was not shared by some of the Democrat members of the (Legislative Ethics Commission) who did what they could to stall and circumvent the selection process,” Tracy said. “Our search committee interviewed multiple candidates and recommended two qualified candidates, and we should have been able to fill this position in a timely manner. But several Democrat members of the LEC did not commit to seeing the process through, and we find ourselves without a qualified LIG to address legislative ethics complaints.”

The search for a new LIG began after Pope announced her resignation in July. The position was posted and the search committee was formed. Two candidates were recommended, but the Legislative Ethics Committee made up of four Democrats and four Republicans couldn’t come to a decision.

Illinois Democrats shove through partisan judicial redistricting map. The new judicial subcircuits map governs the regions within Illinois’ largest counties where Illinois circuit judges will sit and hear cases. More than half the judges of Illinois sit in counties that are mapped into subcircuits, or which will be mapped in this way if House Bill 3138 is signed into law.

Much as they did with the legislative redistricting map, supermajority Democrats shoved their new judicial subcircuits map through the process in a 24-hour period, with no public comment or involvement from the judiciary. The Democrats passed their judicial redistricting map under the cover of darkness, calling the bill for a final vote late on Wednesday night.

State Representative Tim Butler blasted Illinois Democrats during House floor debate for their latest gerrymandering scheme to politicize the Illinois judiciary to an extent never seen in the state to place more Democrats on subcircuit courts and dilute Republican participation in the judiciary.

“It's an abomination to this institution. It's an abomination to the people of Illinois,” Butler said before the House voted 66-34 along partisan lines to send the bill to the Democratic governor’s desk.

"This is the perfect example why politicians shouldn't draw maps," said Butler, Republican spokesman on the House Redistricting Committee. "This is the perfect example why we need an independent, citizen-led commission to draw our maps, from the legislative to the congressional to the judicial, and even the Cook County Board of Review."

"This continues the trend that we've seen from redistricting throughout the year — lack of engagement from the public, lack of input from anyone," Butler said. "Maps are drawn from behind closed doors. ... without engagement from the judiciary, state's attorneys, judges, circuits. No one's been consulted on this. ... You decided to remake the Supreme Court and remake the appellate courts, and now you want to remake the circuit courts so you can defend the governor's agenda in the courts eventually."

Rep. Avery Bourne said: "If it weren't so bad, it would be hilarious that this legislature is looking at what the sponsor of the bill said in committee was an an independent branch of government. And this partisan body is taking partisan measures to totally recreate an independent body of government."

Added Rep. Tony McCombie, "This bill is nothing more than an unethical, partisan scheme to elect more radical Democrat judges who are going to continue to be soft on the crime that is plaguing our state."

Bourne said the late-night votes that General Assembly Democrats have orchestrated on important issues have been frustrating. Republicans have criticized the timing of votes on new maps for new state legislative districts, the state budget, criminal-justice reform and now judicial subdistricts. The House gave final passage to the subdistricts bill about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"We've gotten into this terrible habit in this legislature in the last year of not doing anything meaningful until the rest of Illinois is asleep," Bourne said.

CGFA releases December 2021 report. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) has reported on Illinois’ budget and economic picture for December 2021, the final month of calendar year 2021. December 31 also marked the halfway point of the State of Illinois’ Fiscal Year 2022.

Illinois’ economic status and fiscal performance in FY22 has been strongly affected by the combination of boom conditions and public concerns that have marked most of the duration of this pandemic. Even as new variants of the COVID-19 virus have sparked new surges of illness and hospitalization, most Illinois residents who want to work have gone back to work. In calendar year 2019, the final year before the pandemic hit, approximately 6.1 million Illinois residents were holding nonfarm payroll jobs. Many workers were laid off in the COVID-19 “first wave” that hit in March 2020, but many of these jobs have since been refilled. Together with a trickle of new jobs, this means that 5.9 million Illinois residents held jobs of this type in November 2021, the most recent month for which CGFA has access to employment reports.

The holders of these 5.9 million jobs are paying personal income taxes to the State. The personal income tax, the largest single contributor to State general funds available for spending purposes, yielded almost $2.2 billion to the State’s Department of Revenue in December 2021. This was an increase of $264 million from the revenue from this source one year earlier, in the pandemic stricken December 2020 month. During the same year-over-year period, Illinois corporate income tax revenues rose $417 million, and the State’s revenues from sales taxes rose by $141 million. The State’s internally-generated revenues dedicated to general funds increased by $931 million in December 2021 over the previous-year’s December totals, primarily due to revenues from these three tax areas.

At the same time, inflation has affected all facets of life in Illinois, including the goods and services that Illinoisans have to pay for. CGFA measured inflation at 6.0% in November 2021, which matches reports of soaring inflation nationwide. Motor fuel, groceries, and other necessities of life are much more expensive than they were before the pandemic hit. The emergency federal actions enacted beginning in March 2020 to deal with the coronavirus have created fiscal and monetary realities that have overpowered all of the guidelines put in place since the 1980s to reduce American currency inflation.

These inflationary realities may soon, in turn, force Illinois to start paying higher interest rates to lenders who continue to advance the moneys that Illinois needs to maintain itself as a modern society. As charted by CGFA in their December 2021 fiscal report, Illinois continues to have a relatively low credit rating. For example Fitch Ratings, one of the “Big Three” credit-rating offices based in New York, continued in December 2021 to rank Illinois’ general-obligation debt at BBB-, only one step above “junk bond” level. Fitch has classified Illinois’ debt as near-junk since April 2019.

The CGFA December 2021 fiscal report discusses this and many other facets of Illinois’s overall economic picture for calendar year 2022.

City school board – teacher union impasse: Illinois’ largest public school system closes. With the COVID-19 pandemic generating soaring case counts, educators in Illinois’ largest city this week began to lose the ability to generate a day-to-day consensus on how to operate under crisis conditions. The Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters instructed its employees to keep their schools open, with students masked at all times. On Wednesday, January 5, most members of the Chicago Teachers’ Union refused to do so and did not report to work. As this week ended, most of Chicago’s schools were closed for lack of teachers and educators.

As Chicago Public Schools remain closed, with no end in sight, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called on Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to intervene.

“The current crisis with Chicago’s public education system is causing incredible hardship and trauma for students and families, who have become pawns in this power struggle. Evidence has shown that the last three wasted school years have had a long-term impact on our children and their future, and we cannot let this go on any longer. Just as he ignores the escalating crime plaguing the city, Governor Pritzker has turned a blind eye to all the Chicago students and families he represents. He must immediately intervene in this emergency to get schools open safely and students back in the classrooms where they belong.”

January 2022 coronavirus surge stresses health care providers, hospitals. The current rate of COVID-19 positive cases, illnesses, and hospitalizations has imposed added burdens upon all of the people of Illinois, especially health care providers. As of Thursday, January 6, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported that 7,098 people were hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19. Up until now, there have been approximately 550 new admissions daily, but many Illinois hospitals reported this week that they were operating at full capacity. These facilities now have no remaining empty beds for new patients.

Health care providers have administered more than 19 million vaccination shots against coronavirus, with approximately 60% of Illinois residents fully vaccinated – in most cases, this benchmark is reached through getting two shots from either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Statistics currently indicate that the members of this 60% group are making up only 15% of the COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized in Illinois. In other words, Illinoisans continue to be able to sharply reduce their chances of getting severely ill, or hospitalized, for COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated.

With the highly transmissible Omicron variant surging, coronavirus case counts were very high throughout Illinois this week. It was difficult for many Illinois residents to get access to tests for coronavirus, especially the nasal swabs that generate quick results. Free community testing sites are open throughout Illinois.

Persons who test positive for COVID-19, or persons who have had close personal contact with a person who has tested positive, are urged to follow the current guidelines for self-isolation or quarantine. These guidelines have changed frequently in recent weeks as public health experts learn more about Omicron and in line with overall need to keep the American economy operating during this renewed time of pandemic. The U.S. federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a continuously updated webpage of guidances for COVID-19 quarantine and isolation.

DCFS investigator murdered in Central Illinois. On Tuesday, January 4, Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Investigator Diedre Silas drove through cold weather to a home address in Thayer, Illinois. Silas was conducting a welfare check on six children, ages 1 to 7, at that home. While performing her duties for DCFS and the people of Illinois, Silas was stabbed to death. A suspect has been arrested and is being held without bail.

The Illinois House of Representatives observed a moment of silence to mourn Silas’s death on Wednesday, January 5. Many lawmakers called for new policies to increase protection for DCFS investigators and caseworkers.

Two northwest Illinois legislators, who previously sponsored legislation to extend protections to DCFS and Adult Protective Services workers following the heinous murder of DCFS Investigator Pam Knight in Carroll County in 2018, issued the following joint statement after learning of the horrific murder of DCFS Investigator Deidre Silas in Sangamon County this week.

The following statement can be attributed to Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer and State Representative Tony McCombie:

“Along with all Illinoisans, we mourn the loss of DCFS Investigator Deidre Silas. Deidre Silas, and Pam Knight before her, are not the only DCFS workers to be viciously attacked in recent years. We became involved in this issue because of Pam Knight. It’s tragically unfortunate that the need now exists to speak out on behalf of the next victim. The legislation we pushed so hard for would have removed the ambiguity when it comes to charges to make it clear that if you attack a DCFS or Adult Protective Services worker you would face the same penalty as if you attacked a teacher or a fire fighter. This initiative continues to be the first step in providing justice for these workers who put their lives on the line to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. May we all grieve their loss and hope, as we have before, that this never happens again. Our grief is not enough, though. We call upon our colleagues in the General Assembly to work with us to swiftly pass legislation protecting DCFS and Adult Protective Services investigators without further delay.”

House Bill 3933, the current version of this legislation, is stalled in the Democrat-controlled House Rules Committee. The first time this change was proposed was House Bill 4586, sponsored by McCombie and Demmer in 2018. When that effort failed to get the support of supermajority Democrats, the legislators refiled the legislation as House Bill 1482. This time the bill passed the House with bipartisan support before stalling in the Senate. McCombie and Demmer refiled the bill again as House Bill 3933 in the 102nd General Assembly.

Illinois has a 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-25-ABUSE, to report suspicions that an Illinois child has been harmed or is at risk of being harmed by abuse or neglect.

Illinois minimum wage rises to $12/hour; statewide unemployment continues to be higher than in neighboring states. On New Year’s Day 2022, the Illinois minimum wage was raised to $12.00/hour. This minimum wage rate covers most, but not all, Illinois workers. Teenage workers who are under 18 years of age and who work fewer than 650 hours in a year may be paid a lower part-time wage that cannot be less than $9.25/hour.

Illinois’ unemployment rate continues to be higher than the nationwide rate, which was 4.2% in November 2021 (the national unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December 2021; Illinois figures for December 2021 are not yet available). Illinois’ jobless rate is also higher than the jobless rates posted in neighboring and comparable U.S. states.

In November 2021, the most recent month for which these figures have been reported, the statewide unemployment rate was 5.7%, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). By contrast, the comparable jobless rate in neighboring Indiana was 3.0%; in Missouri, 3.5%; and in Wisconsin, 3.0%.