SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday, Aug. 11, moved Rep. Darren Bailey’s ongoing lawsuit to Sangamon County, effectively ending a Clay County court's role in the case regarding the limits of Gov. JB Pritzker's authority to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Bailey, a Republican from Xenia, asked Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney to hold the governor in jail until he repealed orders allowing K-12 schools to hold in-person classes, permitting the Department of Corrections to accept inmate transfers from county jails and reinstating almost 30 previously announced decrees.
A hearing that was scheduled for Friday, Aug. 14, in Clay County would have required Pritzker to appear in court with representatives from the attorney general’s office as well as Bailey’s lawyer.
In an order issued Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court effectively halted that hearing when it ruled no further proceedings could be held in Bailey’s lawsuit until it decided whether to take control of the case. Hours later, the court also ordered the lawsuit be moved to a circuit court in Sangamon County to be combined with related cases that are pending there.
The justices’ decision only partially fulfilled a request the attorney general’s office made Monday. The state wanted the Supreme Court to halt the contempt hearing in Clay County and take over the case from McHaney.
Thomas DeVore, Bailey’s attorney, is arguing five other civil cases consolidated by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, all challenging aspects of Pritzker’s authority to manage the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Bailey’s lawsuit now joins cases originally based in Edgar, Clinton, Richland and Sangamon counties, all alleging a disaster as defined by statute did not exist there and the governor’s orders should not apply. Another filed by DeVore on behalf of his children argued high school sports should continue despite Pritzker’s restrictions.
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LINK CHARGED: State Sen. Terry Link was charged in federal court Thursday, Aug. 13, with a felony count of tax evasion.
In a one-page document, federal prosecutors allege that Link filed a return for tax year 2016 in which he reported income of $264,450, “when defendant knew that the total income substantially exceeded that amount.”
Link, a Democrat from Indian Creek in Lake County, has served in the Senate since 1997. He currently chairs the Senate Pensions Committee. He also serves on committees dealing with energy and public utilities, insurance, and executive appointments.
He was also still listed as a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission on the Illinois General Assembly's website as of Thursday evening, but a spokesperson for Senate President Don Harmon said in an email the president had accepted Link's resignation from the committee.
Link is now the third state senator to be charged with a federal crime in a little more than a year.
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ETHICS REFORMS: Several Democratic state lawmakers called a virtual news conference Thursday, Aug. 13, in support of ethics reforms, hours before news broke that another Democratic state senator was charged with a federal crime.
A number of the nine initiatives proposed by the Democrats echo reforms called for by Republicans in recent months. Lawmakers should not lobby officials at any level of government or be allowed to jump into lobbying immediately after leaving office, both parties agree.
They are also in favor of establishing term limits for leadership positions. The Senate has such a provision in its rules, but the House does not.
These “nine steps to restoring trust in Illinois government,” Democratic legislators said, can be tackled in the November veto session when the chambers are scheduled to convene in Springfield. Republicans, though, requested Gov. JB Pritzker call a special session before then.
During the news conference, it was not yet reported that Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, had been charged with tax fraud Thursday.
Many questions pertained to House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Almost all of the 10 participants said their list of lobbying, legislative and leadership proposals was not a reaction to recent controversy surrounding Madigan.
The Chicago Democrat was implicated in a federal investigation charging utility giant Commonwealth Edison with one count of bribery. Madigan was also named in a potential class action lawsuit arguing the speaker and utility company should pay “at least” $450 million to almost 4 million Illinoisans affected by the alleged extortion scandal.
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COVID-19 UPDATE: Illinois has now recorded more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic first arrived in the state.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Thursday, Aug. 13, that there had been 1,834 new confirmed cases of the disease over the previous 24 hours, the highest single-day total since Saturday. That brought the statewide total number of cases to 200,427, or nearly 1.6 percent of the state’s population.
The department also reported 24 additional virus-related deaths since Wednesday, bringing that statewide total to 7,696.
The rising number of cases comes at a time when K-12 schools, colleges and universities are struggling to decide whether to resume in-person classes, continue remote learning or some combination of both.
“I'm deeply concerned about the direction that the numbers are going across the state of Illinois,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during a public appearance in Bloomington on Thursday. “I'm also deeply concerned to make sure that we do as much as we can to provide the proper education for our kids. We all know from all the studies that in-person learning is better than e-learning in terms of the retention by kids for what they're learning about. And so, you know, I'm hopeful that schools across the state have the ability to offer in-person learning as well as e-learning. But I understand when schools have chosen to go all e-learning because the challenge is great.”
As of Wednesday night, 1,628 COVID-19 patients in Illinois were hospitalized. Of those, 383 patients were in intensive care units, and 127 of those patients were on ventilators. That’s the highest hospitalization number since July 1, and the highest ICU number since June 30.
The 1,834 new cases confirmed Thursday were from 46,006 tests performed, which is a one-day positivity rate of just under 4 percent. That was the sixth largest number of tests performed in a single day. IDPH said the preliminary seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the period of Aug. 6 to Aug. 12 was 4 percent, a tenth of a percentage point below the previous day.
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FIRST VIRUTAL COMMITTEE MEETING: An Illinois Senate committee met for the state’s first-ever virtual hearing Thursday, Aug. 13, in a Zoom teleconference focusing on diversity in state contracts granted through the Illinois Tollway.
The new Senate rules for virtual hearings were approved by the chamber in the abbreviated May legislative session. They allow the Senate president, in consultation with the minority leader, to create a process in which committee votes can be taken, but such a process has not yet been approved.
Thursday’s Senate Transportation Committee hearing — which state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, called to order shortly before 10 a.m. — was subject matter only, meaning there could be discussion, but no votes would be taken.
Much of the discussion centered on making sure minority groups, women and disadvantaged populations were involved in construction projects, particularly for roads.
Jose Alvarez, the Tollway’s executive director, said about 30 percent, or $167 million of a total $545 million set aside for Tollway construction projects in 2020, will be spent on disadvantaged, minority or women-owned business enterprise firms.
He said $73 million of the Tollway’s $121 million professional services contracts for 2020 will be spent with such firms. Those are vast improvements from the first three quarters of 2019, Alvarez added.
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BUSINESS INTERRUPTION GRANTS:Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday, Aug. 12, announced the release of $46 million in grant funding for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, warned of potential further shutdowns if case counts continue to rise and called widespread use of face coverings the key to preventing such action.
The funding comes from the Business Interruption Grant, or BIG, program which is funded through the federal CARES Act.
The initial allotment of $46 million split between 2,655 small businesses is part of $636 million in total funding for the program. Of that funding, $270 million will go to child care providers.
Pritzker said the initial allotments were distributed in 78 of the state’s 102 counties.
“The initial focus of these grants has been on businesses that have been most severely impacted by COVID-19 — those that were completely shut down in the spring and those that are in COVID-impacted areas that experienced property damage amidst the looting and civil unrest in June,” the governor said at a COVID-19 news conference in Chicago Wednesday.
The grants range from $10,000 to $20,000 each per business.
More than $24 million of the first allotment will go to disproportionately impacted areas as designated by the General Assembly. These include areas significantly impacted by COVID-19 and other adverse economic conditions. In total, 30 percent of BIG funds will go to businesses located in those areas.
The governor’s office said more than 5,000 businesses applied for the grants and those who received them were chosen by random lottery.
Michael Negron, acting director of the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, acknowledged “there is much more we must do” amid historic impacts felt by the pandemic. DCEO oversees the grants.
“Ultimately, revitalizing our economy must start with getting the pandemic under control,” he said at the news conference. “That means following the public health guidelines, wearing a mask, maintaining a safe social distance of six feet and washing your hands regularly.”
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LOCAL GOVERNMENT COVID-19 RELIEF: The state of Illinois will soon begin distributing $250 million in federal funds to help cities, counties and other units of local government pay for pandemic-related expenses.
The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules cleared the way Tuesday, Aug. 12, for the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to launch the Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency, or Local CURE, program, which state lawmakers authorized in the budget they adopted in May.
Of that money, $200 million will go directly to cities and counties. The rest will be divided between local public health departments and other local units of government such as townships and other special taxing districts.
The money can be used for expenses such as COVID-19 testing and emergency medical expenses; public health expenses, including costs of enforcing orders related to COVID-19; payroll expenses for public safety and other employees whose jobs are mainly focused on mitigating or responding to COVID-19; and other expenses that are “reasonably necessary” for responding to the public health emergency.
DCEO used a formula to determine how much money each city and county will receive. Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the agency will start distributing the money later this month.
One thing local governments cannot use the money for, however, is direct aid to local businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. That is something that disappointed some local government leaders.
DCEO set up a separate program to help businesses impacted by the pandemic called the Business Interruption Grant, or BIG, program that will distribute about $636 million to businesses around the state.
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MASK ENFORCEMENT RULE SURVIVES: A legislative panel that oversees the state’s administrative rulemaking process voted along partisan lines Tuesday, Aug. 11 to allow Gov. JB Pritzker’s emergency rule to enforce mask-wearing and other public health orders to move forward.
That decision came from the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, a 12-member, bipartisan, bicameral group that exercises oversight of the state’s regulatory process.
Pritzker announced the new enforcement measure on Friday, Aug. 7, as 13 counties were put on warning that they may have to reimpose some social and economic restrictions to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The order requires businesses, schools and day care facilities to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure that patrons and employees wear face coverings when they cannot maintain a six-foot distance from others. Reasonable efforts can include such things as posting signage that state face coverings are required, giving verbal warnings to customers to wear face coverings, offering a mask to patrons and asking customers to leave if they refuse.
Under the new rules, businesses found to be out of compliance will first be given a written warning. A second offense can result in having some or all of their patrons leave the premises as needed to comply with health guidelines. If businesses refuse to comply after that, they can receive a class A misdemeanor notice and be subject to a fine ranging from $75 to $2,500.
On Tuesday, several members of the panel, particularly Republicans, said they continued to hear concerns from local businesses in their districts about why they were being held liable for enforcing the public health rules, but their customers who refuse to wear masks or keep a six-foot distance from others were not.
Among those was Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, who said callers to his office were concerned about actions of individuals leading to fines and potential misdemeanor charges for businesses.
But Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, a cochair of JCAR, said the graduated nature of the enforcement rules means businesses that are genuinely trying to comply should have nothing to fear.
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DURKIN OPPOSITION TO RULE: While the governor has said lawmakers abdicated their responsibilities on the issue of installing penalties for businesses flouting health guidelines, on Friday, Aug. 7, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, called on Pritzker to scrap the rule and work with lawmakers.
“Today, I am calling on Governor Pritzker to abandon his ‘mask rule’ and work with the legislature on this issue,” Durkin said in a news release. “I am committed to respecting his priorities while recognizing the undue hardship his current rule places on businesses that are already struggling across Illinois. To do this, the Governor should immediately call the legislature into special session where we can also address the urgent need for ethics reform and the controversies surrounding the Democratic Party and Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.”
The governor has previously said he does not plan to call a special session.
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BATTERY OF RETAIL WORKERS: Gov. Pritzker also announced his signing of Senate Bill 471 Friday, Aug. 7, a measure that amends the “aggravated battery” section of law to include the crime of assaulting or battering a retail worker who is fulfilling duties such as relaying health care or safety guidelines. That includes enforcing face covering policies.
The measure saw opposition in the General Assembly from some Democratic lawmakers who are opposed to all enhancements of criminal sentences.
Another portion of the bill extended a one-year recovery period by 60 days for eligible public employees – including firefighters and correctional officers – who are recovering from an on-the-job injury and their recovery is hindered, directly or indirectly, by COVID-19.
That bill also contained language which entitles employees of a horse track that intends to become a combined track-casino, known as a “racino,” to receive information about forming a union if the track is to receive a state license.
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HOUSING ASSISTANCE: Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday, Aug. 10, announced a pair of housing assistance programs aimed at helping lower-income households meet their rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic.
The two programs are being administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will provide $150 million in federal CARES Act funding to help low-income households catch up on their rent payments.
Tenants who are approved for that program will receive one-time grants of $5,000, paid directly to their landlords, to cover rental payments they missed starting in March and to prepay rent bills through December, or until the $5,000 is exhausted, whichever comes first. Those grants will not have to be repaid.
Applications are being accepted from Aug. 10 through Aug. 21, although the application window may close early due to anticipated high volume.
IDHA expects about 30,000 tenants to receive funding. Applications can be filed online at https://era.idha.org.
To qualify, applicants must demonstrate that their income before March 1, 2020, was at or below 80 percent of their Area Median Income, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calculates for each county. Also, an adult member of the household must have had a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic on or after March 1, and the household must have an unpaid rent balance that began on or after March 1.
Once the application period for that program closes, IDHA will begin taking applications for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, which will make another $150 million available to households that have been unable to make their mortgage payments due to a loss of income during the pandemic.
Under that program, the state will provide grants of up to $15,000 to approximately 10,000 households to pay past-due mortgage payments, including escrowed first mortgage expenses such as property taxes, insurance and certain fees.
The grants will be paid directly to the homeowner’s mortgage servicer and will not have to be repaid.
To qualify for the mortgage assistance program, applicants must have reported an adjusted gross income on their 2019 tax return at or below 120 percent of the area median income. Also an adult in the household must have had a loss of income due to the COVID-19 crisis on or after March 1. Applicants must have been current on their payments as of Feb. 29 and their mortgage must be past due or in forbearance.
Applications for mortgage assistance can be filed online at https://ema.idha.org.
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CHICAGO UNREST: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she remained opposed to calling the Illinois National Guard into her city after a night of looting and unrest that led to more than 100 arrests.
At a joint news conference Monday morning, Aug. 10, with Gov. JB Pritzker, Lightfoot shut down the idea after taking questions on President Trump’s repeated offer to send in federal troops.
In line with her previous statements on federal involvement in the city, Lightfoot said she would welcome resources and legislation at the federal level that would help Chicago law enforcement fight crime. Those include gun control legislation to prevent weapons from being brought into Illinois from other states; funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, to prevent the sale of guns to straw purchasers; and stronger federal oversight of licensed gun dealers.
“We need that help from the federal government. I’ve asked for that repeatedly. I’ve never heard an answer from the president,” Lightfoot said.
Her reluctance to accept federal aid stands in contrast to a statement from Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who decried the situation in Chicago Monday morning.
“Once again, Illinois government has failed to protect its residents and businesses. It is time to bring in the National Guard and accept any and all federal assistance to stop the chaos that is destroying our state. No more excuses. No more failures,” the Western Springs Republican said in the email statement.
In a series of tweets, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, also called the looting in Chicago “unacceptable.”
“I implore our leaders at the city, state and federal levels to do everything they can to ensure those who perpetrated these crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and that all measures are taken to ensure our residents and businesses remain safe,” Brady wrote.
Both Lightfoot and Pritzker said the state and city were cooperating and emphasized the need for criminal charges.
“These were criminals. People who broke in, who were shooting at people,” Pritzker said. “We had 13, I believe 13 Chicago police officers who were injured last night. This was criminal activity, those criminals need to be held accountable.”
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MARIJUANA LICENSES: The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, or IDFPR, adopted permanent rules Tuesday, Aug. 11, to break ties in the application process for 75 conditional adult-use marijuana dispensary licenses.
Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, firms can score up to 250 points on their application to obtain a license. There are a limited number of licenses available in each of the state’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Regions.
An outside company does the scoring for the applications, and the new rules provide for a randomized tiebreaker process that takes effect if two or more applicants in a given region have a tied score.
Per the rules, which were filed in June and approved by a legislative rules committee Tuesday, Aug. 11, the first name drawn will have first right to a remaining conditional license, the second name drawn will have second right, and so on.
Applicants receive points for the strength of their planned security measures as well as floor, record-keeping, business and operating plans, among other factors. Applicants can also receive an added 50 points for qualifying as a social equity applicant.
A firm can achieve social equity status if the majority of its ownership has recently lived in communities disproportionately impacted by poverty, gun violence or the war on drugs. A majority of staff must currently live in such an area or meet other criminal justice related criteria.
Social equity applicants are the only ones that can achieve a perfect 250-point score on their application.
Of the 75 available licenses, 47 will be given to applicants from the Chicagoland region. The Metro East area near St. Louis has the next highest number with four.
According to a release distributed by IDFPR Wednesday morning, approval in the legislative committee will allow them to issue conditional licenses “in coming weeks.”
The Illinois Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of awarding licenses that allow firms to grow, infuse and transport cannabis, has yet to finalize its scoring process for firms to apply for and win those licenses.
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MADIGAN, COMED LAWSUIT: A group of Commonwealth Edison ratepayers asked a federal judge Monday, Aug. 10, to force the utility company, House Speaker Michael Madigan and others to pay “at least” $450 million to be split among all those affected by an alleged extortion scandal.
The number of affected ratepayers could rise to more than 3.8 million, according to a lawsuit filed by attorneys representing six residents that all resided in the Chicagoland area at some point in the last decade.
In an agreement with the U.S. government to avoid prosecution, ComEd officials in July acknowledged they funneled money through contractors to colleagues and friends of Madigan.
Those “bribes” – which total more than $1.3 million according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday – were made from 2011 through 2019 in an attempt to influence the longtime House gatekeeper to pass legislation favorable to the utility and kill other bills that would negatively impact the company.
That “racketeering scheme” generated more than $150 million in profits for ComEd, according to the document — all of which is money paid by customers in service charge hikes and fees implemented by laws for which ComEd and its parent company, Exelon Corporation, lobbied in support.
ComEd distributes electricity to 70 percent of Illinoisans, according to the lawsuit, making the company the largest utility in the state.
Exelon, ComEd, Madigan and various other officials participated in an operation designed to enrich themselves while defrauding consumers, the lawsuit alleges. That would be a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, used by the federal government to prosecute and dismantle organized crime groups.
If a judge in the Eastern Division of Illinois’ Northern District agrees, ComEd ratepayers could be compensated the $150 million the utility earned in profit “threefold” as well as attorneys’ fees.
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OTHER COUNTIES ON 'WARNING': The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday, Aug. 7 there were 13 counties in Illinois at a warning level for COVID-19 transmission, including Cass, Coles, Grundy, Iroquois, Jackson, Monroe, Perry, Saline, St. Clair, Tazewell, Union, Williamson and Winnebago.
A group of Commonwealth Edison ratepayers asked a federal judge Monday to force the utility company, House Speaker Michael Madigan and others to pay “at least” $450 million to be split among all those affected by an alleged extortion scandal.
According to IDPH, a county enters a warning level when two or more COVID-19 risk indicators measuring the rate of increase are met. Indicators include new cases per 100,000 people; number of deaths; weekly test positivity; intensive care unit availability; weekly emergency department visits; weekly hospital admissions; number of tests performed; and the percent of COVID-19 cases associated with clusters or outbreaks.
IDPH reported the counties saw cases or outbreaks associated with open businesses, long-term care facilities, large social gatherings and out-of-state travel.
“There have been several instances of multiple cases among family members in the same, large household. Students returning to universities and colleges are also driving the recent increase in cases in several communities. Many students are not wearing face coverings or social distancing and are gathering in large groups and at bars,” IDPH reported in a news release.
The warning is designed to alert local officials when action may be needed to mitigate spread.
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