Week in Review: Ukraine, protecting kids, veterans & more


Illinois House Republicans Stand with the People of Ukraine. While Russian troops move into Ukraine, an act of war the likes of which has not been seen in Europe since 1939, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has introduced legislation to send a message to the Ukrainian people that Illinois supports them and will not do business with these vicious warmongers.

“This morning, we woke up to shocking images crossing our TV screens. People in cities throughout Ukraine huddled in subways and shelters while explosions shake their cities as Russian soldiers begin an invasion of their homeland,” said Durkin. “Today, we must send a strong signal to these people that we stand with them and support their sovereignty – that the State of Illinois is prepared to do what we can to help.”

Durkin’s legislation would require Illinois to divest of any pension funds in Russian companies and prohibit the state’s treasury from holding any Russian assets.

“Too often partisanship dominates our efforts in the General Assembly, but this is an opportunity for us to stand up as a bipartisan body and do what is right to support the Ukrainian people in the face of unimaginable hardship. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done.”

Demmer Introduces Bills to Aid in Ukrainian Refugee Resettlement. As Russia launches a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, an act of war not seen on the European Continent in a generation, House Republican Deputy Leader Tom Demmer has introduced legislation to send a strong-message to the people of Ukraine that the State of Illinois supports them.

“In this dark and dangerous moment, it is crucial that we stand strongly and unequivocally with the people of Ukraine and offer every tool at our disposal to provide aid to refugees who flee from the invasion of their sovereign nation,” Demmer said. “As a nation founded by refugees, there is no American value more enduring or essential than welcoming refugees from war-torn places all across the world and helping them and their families resettle safely.”

Demmer’s legislation would include an additional $20 million in the Department of Human Services (DHS) budget for FY22 and FY23 to aid in the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees. Illinois’ refugee resettlement program, run by DHS, has resettled more than 123,644 refugees from more than 60 countries since 1975.

The Refugee Program provides community-based services, including counseling, orientation, and English classes in addition to vocational training, job readiness, and job placement assistance. Additionally, multi-lingual mental health services are available for refugees who have experienced severe trauma.

“I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together quickly on a bipartisan basis to pass my legislation into law so that the State of Illinois is prepared to provide the necessary aid to Ukrainian refugees and their families during this tragic and anxious period in their lives,” Demmer added.

Report on FY22, FY23 revenues to House Revenue Committee. The report was made by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the General Assembly’s nonpartisan economic forecasting arm. CGFA is asked by law to maintain an independent monitoring capacity over Illinois’ general funds revenues and revenue spreadsheets. General funds revenues include income from Illinois individual income taxes, corporate income taxes, and sales taxes.

The global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with an outburst in U.S. inflation, means that Illinois is currently enjoying a positive spike in income and sales tax revenues. When inflation affects employee paychecks and increases the prices Illinoisans must pay for taxable goods, tax payments increase as well. CGFA staff told the Illinois House this week that Illinois is expected to take in $48.5 billion in general funds and general funds-related revenues in FY22. This is the fiscal year that will end on June 30, 2021. The FY22 revenue number is an increase of $4.1 billion from numbers anticipated at the start of the fiscal year.

CGFA staff expects much of this new money to disappear in FY23, the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2022. Anticipated general funds and general funds-related related revenues are currently expected to drop from $48.5 billion in FY22 to $46.3 billion in FY23. Much of this drop is driven by a decline of almost $2.2 billion in moneys from federal sources, including the elimination of the one-time use of $1.5 billion in repurposed federal ARPA funds as general revenue in FY23 and an almost $700 million from a decline in federal matching funds on Medicaid bills.

Major takeaways from the CGFA report are that general fund revenues in FY22 are expected to exceed original projections from May 2021 by $4.6 billion. Furthermore, general revenues could outperform the competing financial projection by a separate spreadsheet analysis team in the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) by $695 million in FY22 and by $484 million in FY23. This CGFA-projected revenue over-performance has caused some House Republicans to question the allowed repurposing of $1.5 billion pandemic-related ARPA funds in FY22 when the state is enjoying a large budget surplus over the same period of time.

These questions are backed up by overall global economic instability and trends. There are significant economic headwinds on the horizon, headed by rising inflation costs. At least one subset of COVID-related liabilities demands urgent attention – an outstanding debt of $4.2 billion, likely to soon be $4.3 billion in outstanding liabilities owed by the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund to Washington, D.C. These UI Trust Fund liabilities were the direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic shutdown of the state that followed, and many believe that the remaining ARPA moneys of Illinois should be used to repay this debt rather than to be used to create or maintain new government programs.

The CGFA report was presented to the House Revenue Committee on Thursday, February 24.

Standing Up for Child Victims of Exploitation, Rep. Bos Bill Unanimously Passes Illinois House. On Wednesday, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation filed by State Representative Chris Bos, House Bill 4593, to hold those who sexually abuse children accountable.

“Today, the House took an important step to stand up for underage victims of sexual exploitation,” said Bos. “The unanimous passage of House Bill 4593 says to victims in a unified voice that we see you, we hear you and we will not let your abusers off the hook for their depraved actions.”

Under the legislation, those who pay for sex would no longer be able to claim they did not know the person they solicited for sex was underage or was a person with an intellectual disability and use it as an affirmative defense. This change in the law would place the burden on the exploiter who solicited the sex to prove they did not know their victim was underage or disabled, rather than placing the burden on the victim.

Bos, an advocate for victims of sexual exploitation, noted during the debate on the House floor that the majority of the underage who are exploited are victims of human trafficking who have been forced or manipulated into their sexual abuse.

“Making it harder for these predators to escape justice is vital to ensuring fewer children and vulnerable people become victims,” said Bos. “I’m thankful to my colleagues in the House for their support today and I hope to see the Senate pass the bill unanimously as well.”

Illinois State Police reports on fentanyl, other illegal drug seizures in FY 2021. The State Police’s Metropolitan Enforcement Groups (MEGs) are task forces that concentrate on the presence of illegal drugs throughout Illinois. The State Police MEG units often cooperate with local law enforcement, as well as the federal government. As part of their inter-service fights against drugs, the MEGs also target possession of guns and other deadly weapons by felons who are barred from their legal possession.

In a report to local law enforcement officers and the people of Illinois, State Police Director Brendan Kelly announced this week that the MEG units had participated in 2,229 bust actions throughout Illinois in fiscal year 2021 (FY21). These actions had seized illegal drugs with a street value of more than $71 million. These seizures showed a sharp increase in drug seizure activity from FY20. Fentanyl seizures were up almost 400%, heroin seizures increased approximately 260%, and meth bust actions were up approximately 190%.

The nine State Police MEG units reported opening 1,404 cases, closing approximately 1,131 cases, and maintaining 1,247 ongoing investigations. The 2,229 bust actions and 1,131 closed cases resulted in 878 arrests for delivery or possession of controlled substances, as well as 68 gang crime-related arrests.

Growing confusion at continued partial existence of face mask and testing rules and orders. Illinois COVID-19 face mask rules became even more complex and localized this week, with units of local government including Chicago announcing new partial face mask guidances. Under the current set of guidances, operators of spaces of public gathering (such as food retail stores) and their customers are supposed to wear facemasks in some places but not in others.

Even with the current facemask mitigation guidances, face coverings continue to be legally mandatory in healthcare settings, long-term care settings, places of public transportation (including airports), and inside federal buildings. Spurred by a recent Illinois court decision and Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), many schools are lifting their facemask requirements or going mask-optional; other school systems, led by Chicago Public Schools, say they are maintaining these rules in place even as the city of Chicago lifts other facemask rules.

State Supreme Court lifts statewide courtroom mask mandate. Since close to the start of the 2020-2022 coronavirus pandemic, face-to-face interactions in Illinois courtrooms have been truncated by a series of COVID-19 mitigation orders. Unlike much of the rest of the state’s government, Illinois courtrooms are part of the state’s judicial system and are supervised by the Illinois Supreme Court. This week, the Illinois Supreme Court lifted the face mask requirement in Illinois courtrooms. The courtroom mask mandate lift is effective on Monday, February 28. Each circuit court will continue to be allowed to follow the orders of local (not statewide) public health officials.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s action is significant because the high court is also expected to be the court of final appeal for the status of Governor Pritzker’s controversial statewide school facemask mandate. A circuit court decision, which currently is valid case law throughout Illinois, has laid a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on top of the statewide school mask mandate. The Governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul have appealed the circuit court decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s order was published on Tuesday, February 22.

COVID-19 hospitalization count drops sharply. The recent “surge” in COVID-19/Omicron cases, which placed a fresh round of stress on Illinois inpatient health care, continued to recede sharply this week. Some patients are still hospitalized with the virus. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), which continues to track coronavirus numbers, as of Wednesday, February 23 there were 250 COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds of Illinois. This made up less than 10% of the 2,945 staffed ICU beds available this week. IDPH figures showed similar utilization patterns for hospital ventilators. Coronavirus positive case counts are also declining sharply in many regions of Illinois.

COVID-19 continues to be a potentially dangerous illness. On February 22, the most recent date for which these numbers are available, 1,232 Illinois residents were hospitalized with coronavirus. While this number marked a decline of approximately 75% from the inpatient count 30 days earlier, every patient with COVID-19 is a matter of concern for their families and friends. On February 22, twenty-eight Illinois deaths were attributed to COVID-19, and on February 23, 86 such deaths were recorded.

Renewed contempt proceedings against DCFS. This week’s court proceeding marked the fourth time in six weeks that a judge has held Director Marc Smith in contempt of court. Smith, an appointee of Gov. Pritzker, is the head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the State agency with placement responsibilities over children and juveniles who need care. A series of laws and consent decrees place a hard mandate upon DCFS to provide adequate placements for all children assigned to its care. Each of these four contempt holdings is the results of a court finding that Smith and the Department have ignored these mandates with respect to at least one individual child or juvenile.

At the heart of the most recent contempt holding is the case of a 16-year-old girl. A recent patient at a psychiatric hospital, the juvenile has multiple foster-care challenges and needs. DCFS is required by law to find a stable foster care setting for this person, and the setting has to have multiple resources in place to meet her individualized patient requirements. The Department’s records, however, presented this week pursuant to an order of a Cook County juvenile court judge, showed the girl had no foster home and had been moved around 25 times since September.

House approves Swanson bill to help Illinois veterans. Illinois already has a Lottery game in which residents of our State can compete to win prizes and make contributions to those who have devoted their lives to America’s service. Veterans and their advocates, working through Representative Dan Swanson (himself a retired U.S. Army officer), have pointed out additional areas where Veterans Lottery Game funding will be useful. Current law restricted allowable counseling services to post-traumatic stress disorder only; Swanson’s legislation expands this category to cover all mental health services.

The existing Lottery game helps homeless veterans. HB 4682 seeks to expand this help to veterans who want to stay in their homes. The Lottery game’s funding can be used, in the future, to help veterans with housing costs such as rent and past-due utility bills. HB 4682 was approved by the Illinois House this week by a vote of 75-18-6. The measure now goes to the state Senate for further discussion and debate. The House vote was on Thursday, February 24.