Week in Review: Shattered trust, emission standards, proton therapy and more

Capitol Crimes: Shattered Trust. Democracy depends on the public’s trust of its leaders. When that trust is shattered it could take years, if ever, to put the pieces back together. Wiretaps, stings, racketeering, bribery, and extortion – terms that have become all too familiar to the general public. Why should they care about good public policy if the politicians don’t? It is one of the reasons that so many people are disengaging from politics – they don’t trust politicians to do the right thing.

This episode of Capitol Crimes tells the stories of legislators trying to stem the rampant corruption that plagues our state and reverse the moniker of most corrupt state in the union. Their attempts to rebuild the trust of Illinoisans continue to be thwarted by those leading the General Assembly. Nevertheless, Illinois State Representatives Ryan Spain, Amy Elik and other lawmakers continue to push the majority to take effective action to end the culture of corruption in Illinois.

Listen to Capitol Crimes: Shattered Trust podcast.

Moody’s Analytics downgrades Illinois’ economic outlook. Two firms, Moody’s Analytics and Economic and Consumer Credit Analytics, were hired by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), a nonpartisan arm of the Illinois General Assembly, to generate a report on the economic conditions facing Illinois and its workforce. Their databases and personnel qualify the writers to compare Illinois with other U.S. states, and with the global economy as a whole.

The conclusion of the analytical consortium is that “Illinois will be a below-average performer in the region and among U.S. states,” (“State of Illinois Forecast Report,” page 1) with the key data points of gross State product, employment, and income increasing less than in competitor states. The analysts downgrade Illinois based on downward population growth trends, the State’s stagnant tax base, and the mounting burden placed on local taxpayers to cover the cost of public-sector pensions.

After a spike upward following the 2020-2022 pandemic, Illinois employment growth has returned to its pre-2020 trendline. The Prairie State generates virtually flat numbers of new payroll jobs to replace the old jobs eliminated by economic change, with a net increase of about 1% per year. This 1% figure reappeared in 2023, and the analysts expect it to continue (at best) in future years (page 2 of the report). In addition, the analysts warn of the danger of a future recession or recessions. Negative Illinois trends in the employment subfields of information science and professional and business services (page 3 of the report) bode poorly for Illinois’ long-term economic health, given the importance of these subfields as electronic automation and artificial intelligence take on greater and greater roles in economic production and productivity.

Proton therapy cancer treatment in Illinois expands thanks to bipartisan support. In an era of hyper-partisan rhetoric surrounding all layers of government, many Illinois residents are eager to hear about ways their elected officials are working together across the aisle to bring about improvements to Illinoisans daily lives.

A recent example of strongly bipartisan legislation was a measure sponsored by State Representative Norine Hammond to require health insurance plans to provide coverage for proton beam therapy cancer treatment.

Representative Hammond spent over two years working on legislation to make it easier for cancer patients to receive proton beam therapy as part of their treatment plan. Hammond said that while proton beam therapy is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, insurance companies often restrict or refuse coverage for the treatment.

“Proton therapy is a very effective treatment for certain types of cancer,” Rep. Hammond said. “The legislation that I introduced last year was for a constituent that had brain cancer. She was told that proton therapy was the option that she should take for her treatment. However, it was not an in-network expense so they paid tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. That being said she is doing wonderfully as a result of the treatment.”

Public Act 103-0325 received vast bipartisan support when it was proposed by Hammond and passed in the Illinois House of Representatives as House Bill 2799 on March 22, 2023. Democrats and Republicans were able to come together, work together, and accomplish a good thing for families dealing with difficult diagnoses and treatments.

Proton beam therapy is offered at several facilities throughout Illinois including Northwestern Medicine in suburban Chicagoland, Loyola Medicine in Chicagoland, OSF St. Francis in Peoria, Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and more. The list of proton beam therapy sites is growing after accessibility to treatment has been improved under this new state law.

Advanced manufacturing center opens in Central Illinois. The $17 million facility marks an increased commitment by Illinois’ community colleges towards training a workforce for automated and artificial-intelligence (AI) factory floors. Located at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois, the learning space and practice shopfloor will offer certifications in robotics maintenance, energy cabling, machinery HVAC pipefitting, and information technology. An Electric Vehicle Lab, sponsored by Bloomington-Normal’s State Farm, will train future workers in EV manufacturing and maintenance.

The EV Lab and Advanced Manufacturing Center is building affiliations with local employers such as Rivian Automotive. Two-year pathways to certification allow students to work up to full-time, thus minimizing student challenges and loan debt.Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) career orientation events this spring. The Department, which operates 46 separate correctional centers, units, work camps, classification centers, and re-entry centers, is currently seeking correctional officers, nurses, wardens, office associates, social workers, and other workers and professionals. As part of its hiring drive, IDOC is hosting, or participating in, 20 face-to-face recruitment events open to the public in March and April 2024. A list of the recruitment events has been posted. IDOC recruiters will be eager to answer questions from potential applicants. Jobs at IDOC include a variety of work-related benefits, including health insurance and a retirement plan. Reflecting the geographical diversity of the state, the recruitment events will be hosted at locations that range from the Chicago area to far-southern Illinois.

Pritzker proposes over $2 billion in new State spending backed by $1 billion in new taxes. Analysts have been looking over the FY25 budget proposal made by Governor Pritzker to the Illinois General Assembly last week and have outlined over $2 billion in new State spending backed up by $1 billion in new taxes on Illinois families and businesses. Much of the money will go to existing State programs, headed by nearly-free health care for undocumented immigrant adults through the “Health Benefit Coverage for Immigrant Adults” and “Health Benefit Coverage for Immigrant Seniors” programs, which currently cost Illinois taxpayers almost $1 billion per year.

House Republicans Working to Keep Radical California Emission Standards out of Illinois. Illinois House Republicans and thousands of concerned Illinois residents are working as part of statewide and local grassroots efforts to keep strict California Emission Standards from being enacted by radical Illinois Democrats. These emission standards would eliminate the production and use of gasoline-powered vehicles and force drivers to buy electric vehicles in Illinois in the near future.

House Bill 1634, introduced by Chicago Democrat Edgar Gonzalez, would require Illinois to adopt California’s ultra-strict motor vehicle emission standards. Under California law, automakers are required to increase the proportion of zero-emission vehicle sales every year. That legislation would put zero-emission vehicle sales at 35 percent for model year 2026, 68 percent by 2030, and reach 100 percent by 2035. This would apply to ALL new passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs sold in Illinois.

The bill would require Illinois to implement California’s clean trucks program and heavy-duty low NOx omnibus program that targets 100 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, all drayage semi-trucks to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, and all buses and long-haul semi-trucks to be zero-emission vehicles by 2045.

The bill was expected to be discussed during an Energy and Environment Committee meeting scheduled for February 20 in Springfield. However, faced with fierce opposition and thousands of witness slips being filed opposing the legislation, Democrats canceled the meeting. As of February 23, over 3,700 witness slips had been filed in opposition at ilga.gov, with only 540 filing in support.

The Executive Director of the Illinois Trucking Association, Matt Hart, is quoted as saying the response to the proposed legislation “is the largest number of people I have ever seen who filed a witness slip in opposition to a trucking-related bill.” Hart is also quoted as saying that the law is “not only a detriment to the trucking industry, but it would be a killer for businesses in Illinois. Trucking, transportation, and warehousing is the number one business for minority business ownership in Illinois. Most of these are small businesses that cannot afford a $480,000 electric truck. They’ll simply move. They’ll start a company in Indiana or Wisconsin where they can afford to buy a clean diesel truck.” ITA also said that the cost to operate an electric truck is nearly double the cost to operate a traditional truck.

The list of groups that oppose the bill is very long. It includes the Illinois Trucking Association, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturers Association, Illinois Automobile Dealers Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, and a host of others.

A zero-emission vehicle is defined as a vehicle that produces zero tail-pipe emissions, including battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Near-zero-emissions vehicles are defined as vehicles with an internal combustion engine and an electric energy storage system, including plug-in hybrid vehicles and hydrogen internal combustion engine vehicles.

Current Illinois emissions laws were last updated in 2005. Drivers living in a county or ZIP code with air pollution issues must complete regular emissions testing if the car is more than four years old and built after 1996. Motorists who live in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, Madison, McHenry, Monroe, St. Clair, and Will are subject to emissions testing, with all locations in the Chicagoland and Metro East areas.

Mötley Crüe and Jason Isbell to appear at Grandstand in August. It was announced this week that veteran hard rockers Mötley Crüe will perform at the 2024 Illinois State Fair. The winners of innumerable metal awards and recognitions, Mötley Crüe has been performing since 1981. Their hits include “Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart,” “Home Sweet Home” and “Wild Side.” As a group they have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and have gone platinum/multi-platinum seven times. Their music has been streamed more than 5 billion times and the band claims more than 8 million followers on social media. Tickets for the Saturday, August 20 concert are set to go on sale March 2.

Mötley Crüe will be followed up by Americana-themed Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. After his work with the Drive-By Truckers, singer and songwriter Jason Isbell has developed enduring ties with band The 400 Unit. With roots in Southern folk-rock, Isbell’s songs and band identity have moved into the mainstream music scene. Isbell and his collaborators have won four Grammy Awards and his most recent album, “Weathervanes,” came out in June 2023.