Week in Review: Manufacturing jobs, fentanyl, cash bail and more


House Republicans Call for Business Reforms to Attract Manufacturing and Keep Jobs in Illinois. House Republican members held a Capitol news conference this week to call for reforms to Illinois’ business climate following the shuttering of the Stellantis Jeep Assembly Plant in Belvidere and Stellantis’ previously announced $150 million investment in Indiana.

Representatives Joe Sosnowski, Dan Ugaste, and John Cabello called for reforms to Illinois’ tax code and business regulatory environment, while pointing out that major manufacturers are passing over Illinois to invest in states with friendlier business environments. 

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski spoke on the need to keep manufacturing and other industries in Illinois, pointing out how the policies of the Pritzker Administration and the legislative supermajority in Springfield have given false hope to job creators and local families while failing to stem the exodus of Illinois jobs to neighboring states.

You can watch the press conference here.

McCombie Fentanyl Bill to Combat Epidemic. This week, House Republican Leader Tony McCombie discussed the impact her legislation to combat fentanyl will have in saving lives across Illinois.

McCombie’s bill, HB 3203, passed unanimously out of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Illinois House last week and allows pharmacists and retail stores to sell potentially life-saving fentanyl test strips over the counter. Currently, test strips are classified as drug paraphernalia, which has made it impossible to make progress on identifying fentanyl in other drugs. The test strips will be able to identify if fentanyl is present in any drug, which is essential considering only a small dose (only 2 milligrams) of fentanyl can have fatal consequences.

At a press conference Thursday in the State Capitol, Leader McCombie stood with Republican lawmakers to talk about the fentanyl epidemic, its effect in Illinois communities, and how her legislation will help provide a solution to a problem that too many families are experiencing across the state.

“This bill will help save lives,” said Leader McCombie. “Fentanyl is a deadly drug that is taking far too many lives and as we continue to take steps to address the opioid epidemic affecting Illinois families, our priority with this legislation is to single out fentanyl.”

The legislation McCombie is backing will make a significant stride to protect kids from unintentionally ingesting a deadly drug. High schools across the state have had issues with fentanyl laced with other drugs like marijuana, which has spurred even more attention to the deadly consequences.

“As lawmakers, when we see a problem as deep as this one, it’s our public duty to try to solve it and I believe my bill is a viable first step forward in combatting this epidemic,” continued McCombie.

HB 3203 continues to gain bipartisan support as it proceeds through the legislative process and awaits further consideration in the Illinois House.

Illinois Supreme Court hears arguments on cash bail. Illinois courts have long had the power to require that a defendant post cash bail as a surety for their good behavior as they get ready for their trial date. The Illinois Constitution protects defendants by ordering that the cash bail be set at an appropriate level, and a wide variety of case law gives Illinois defendants a recourse when they face a request for bail as a condition of pretrial release.

Although cash bail has been, and continues to be, a significant part of Illinois’ criminal procedure, a case before the Illinois Supreme Court could soon end it. A major component of the Democrats’ so-called “SAFE-T Act” would eliminate cash bail as of this year. Law enforcement officials, including the overwhelming majority of Illinois state’s attorneys, filed suit to block the implementation of “no cash bail.” Oral arguments on the case of Rowe and Downey v. Kwame Raoul et al. were heard by the Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 14. State’s Attorney James E. Rowe and Sheriff Michael Downey, the lead plaintiffs, represented a bipartisan group of elected law enforcement officers from across Illinois. These public officials within law enforcement are fighting to retain cash bail as a tool of criminal procedure by the Illinois courts. The state high court’s decision will shape the future of pretrial detention in Illinois.

Key global credit rating firm grants Illinois a debt upgrade; still near the bottom of U.S. state governments. Moody’s Investors Service, one of the largest credit rating agencies, moved Illinois general obligation debt to a ‘single A3’ rating. This standing, while far below that posted by affiliate agencies of neighboring states such as triple-Aaa Indiana, could grant Illinois taxpayers some much-needed relief in terms of the interest payable on State debts. Illinois is continually borrowing more money, and its credit ratings from Moody’s and other credit rating firms help determine the comparative level of interest rates that Illinois bonds must pay when they hit the global debt marketplace. These interest payments, which are made on bonds sold by Illinois and its affiliate agencies, are payments that must ultimately be paid by Illinois taxpayers.

The Moody’s Investors Service ‘single A3’ rating is the lowest A-ranked slot on Moody’s chalkboard. While above the ‘Baa’ slots, it continues to signify standing within the lower half of the set of investment-grade bond ratings that Moody’s awards to borrowers. In a comment that accompanied the rating change, Moody’s noted the current “stable outlook” of the fiscal picture facing the State. The Moody’s Investor Service upgrade was announced on Tuesday, March 14.

In a time of sharply rising interest rates, Illinois must set aside more and more money every year to service its new and existing debt load. Moody’s decision could make this burden less crushing than it otherwise would have been for Fiscal Year 2024, which begins on July 1, 2023. Illinois House appropriations committees heard presentations this week on many facets of the FY24 budget picture.

Illinois metro areas show continued strong job outlook in January 2023. The statewide unemployment rate was 4.7% for the first month of 2023, and this week the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) worked with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to develop estimates of these rates within the major metro areas of Illinois.

In the highly-populated Chicago region, unemployment was 4.7% during this monthly period, the same as the statewide rate. Downstate metro areas posted numbers that were higher or lower than the statewide average. In many cases, the divergence from the mean was associated with a metro area’s orientation towards manufacturing industry, on the one hand, or tertiary services such as healthcare and higher education on the other. In higher ed/hospital-oriented Champaign-Urbana, for example, the January 2023 unemployment rate was 3.8%, signaling near-full employment. In nearby, historically industry-oriented Danville, the same rate was 5.7%. Other Illinois metro areas with high unemployment were Rockford, with 5.8%, and Kankakee, with 6.1%. Rockford-area jobless rates may bump up soon in association with the recent shuttering of Stellantis’ Belvidere motor vehicle assembly complex.

Illinois trout seasons to open on Saturday, March 18, and on Saturday, April 1. The speckled fish is stocked in 58 ponds, lakes, and streams throughout Illinois, using funds from a variety of sources. Funding sources include money from Inland Trout Stamp fishing licenses issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which announced that the catch-and-release trout season will open on Saturday, March 18.

Starting on Saturday, April 1, holders of Trout Stamps will be able to keep and clean up to five fish per day. The Trout Stamp requirement is waived for children under age 16, persons with blindness or other disabilities, and for Illinois residents on leave from active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. The 58 stocked Illinois trout waterways are listed in the announcement of the opening of the season.