Ethics, violent crime, jobs & more

Ethics, violent crime, jobs & more

ETHICS REFORM
Legislative Inspector General resigns, calls for fundamental changes. Under existing State General Assembly law, legislators are supposed to obey a series of laws and guidelines governing their work, income, and conduct. Legislative members’ compliance with these laws and guidelines is supposed to be overseen by the Legislative Inspector General, who has the power to scrutinize and refer cases for possible disciplinary action against a legislative member of the Illinois House or the Illinois Senate.
However, current law and practice gives key legislators broad powers to block the referral of any evidence against a member for scrutiny or to make a case against the member. When Illinois Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope offered her resignation on Wednesday, July 14, she stated that under current Illinois law “
true ethics reform is not a priority.” She described some of the internal General Assembly veto points against disciplinary due process, and lamented that as a result, her job is “essentially that of a paper tiger” who can pretend to try to enforce the law but has no power to actually do so. While Inspector General Pope’s official last day has not yet been finalized, her public resignation offer was a signal that she considers her useful service to be at an end.

House Republicans responded to Pope’s resignation by renewing their call for ethics reform. House Republicans have offered many bills in Spring 2021 to improve the standing of the Legislative Inspector General within the Illinois General Assembly. HB 2575, sponsored by Rep. Mike Murphy, and HB 2842, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Wilhour, removes or modifies many of the veto points that currently prevent the Legislative Inspector General from taking steps to commence an investigatory action. HB 3396, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Windhorst, contained comprehensive legislation strengthening the Office of the Legislative Inspector General to crack down on legislative lobbying activities. Majority Democrats bottled up HB 2575, HB 2842, and HB 3396, and the bills were re-referred to the House Rules Committee, effectively killing them.

House Republicans urge veto of flawed ethics reform legislation. State Representative Avery Bourne is urging Governor Pritzker to issue an amendatory veto to a piece of ethics reform legislation that was passed on the final day of session in the Illinois House. This comes after Legislative Inspector General Pope announced her resignation partially citing provisions in Senate Bill 539 that limit the jurisdiction of the LIG. The bill makes changes to the state’s ethics laws.

Over the course of the last year and a half, the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform has highlighted many deficiencies in existing state ethics laws, none of which are adequately addressed in SB539. Despite the efforts of House Republican lawmakers, including State Rep. Avery Bourne, comprehensive ethics reform measures have been largely ignored—and the caucus as well as the Legislative Inspector General were shut out of the bill negotiations.

“There are very tiny aspects of this bill that are necessary, but it barely scratches the surface of what truly needs to be accomplished to clean up our state government and produce real ethics reform,” said Rep. Bourne. “The biggest fault of this bill is that it limits the Legislative Inspector General, who is supposed to be an independent watchdog over the legislature. At a time when we have seen countless elected officials indicted and ongoing federal investigations—we need stronger anti-corruption reforms to restore the public’s trust.”

The Republican caucus sent a letter to Governor Pritzker today expressing their concerns with the ethics bill, as it has yet to be signed into law.

CRIMINAL LAW
House Republicans call for action on heightened violence and criminal activity plaguing Illinois. Violent crime, carjackings, and drug-related crimes are surging in Illinois. Law enforcement officers who are on the front lines are facing challenges from two directions. On the one side are violent criminals and gang members. On the other side are activists who call for “criminal justice reform” and even to “defund the police.” Some of these include the Democratic politicians who have pushed through criminal justice reform legislation that eliminates cash bail, releases violent criminals back out onto the streets, and makes it more difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to do their jobs.

This week, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin held a Zoom press conference with Representatives Deanne Mazzochi and Amy Elik to discuss the corrosive effect indiscriminate and ill thought out criminal justice reform is having on public safety in Illinois. Watch the full press conference here.

BUDGET
Legislative Budget Oversight Commission issues final report for Fiscal Year 2021. Events in FY20 and FY21 created a budget crisis in Illinois. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in Illinois in March 2020, led to a series of stay-at-home orders that brought much of the Illinois economy to a halt. Although these stay-at-home orders were succeeded by “mitigation” orders that allowed some economic activity to resume, budget planners had to anticipate that the Illinois economy would continue to be shaken by the pandemic. In spring 2020, these economic factors played a major role in the assumed revenue estimated for the approaching FY21 fiscal year, which as planned would have had a $6.3 billion budget hole. To address this deficit, the General Assembly gave the Governor’s office new authority to issue up to $5 billion in debt, provided the Governor’s office with additional temporary latitude to transfer money between funds, and granted emergency authorities to govern funds authorized from the federal CARES Act.

In response to all of this additional authority granted to the Governor, the Illinois General Assembly created a Legislative Budget Oversight Commission to monitor the situation. The Oversight Commission requires the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) to release monthly reports on State revenues and expenditures, including spending categories and any additional budget actions related to the pandemic.

The Oversight Commission also tracked federal aid from Washington. Much of this aid had been handed to the State in the form of lump sums not broken out into lines in the usual manner of appropriated public spending. The State law that created the Oversight Commission instructed GOMB to report to the Commission on the specifics of how this money was allocated and spent.

With the creation of coronavirus testing systems, and then a series of COVID-19 vaccines, it was possible for most of Illinois life and activity to resume. Pent-up demand, and federal aid in the form of stimulus aid payments and expanded unemployment benefits, created an economic boom in some sectors. The State of Illinois, in FY21, saw healthy payments of income taxes and sales taxes to Illinois coffers. The Illinois budget picture fluctuated down and then up, creating a series of challenges for budget planners. FY20 tax revenues wound up far below expectations, while FY21 tax revenues were influenced by multi-billion-dollar recovery trends. The GOMB wound up its work at the end of FY21 (the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021) with a final report to the Legislative Budget Oversight Commission. The report describes the dramatic swings in various lines of State revenue intake and spending outtake during the crisis years of FY20 and FY21. The budget implementation bill (BIMP) for FY22 extends the sunset of the Oversight Commission to ensure that the Commission will continue its oversight work through the FY22 fiscal year, ending June 30, 2022.

JOBS
Illinois unemployment rate rises to 7.2% in June 2021. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate rose +0.1 percentage point to 7.2 percent, while nonfarm payrolls increased +12,500 in June, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The May monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report, from -7,900 to +4,300 jobs. The May preliminary unemployment rate was unchanged from the preliminary report, remaining at 7.1 percent.

The June payroll jobs estimate and unemployment rate reflects activity for the week including the 12th. The BLS has published FAQs for the June payroll jobs and the unemployment rate.

In June, the three industry sectors with the largest over-the-month gains in employment were: Leisure and Hospitality (+10,700), Trade, Transportation and Utilities (+3,400), and Construction (+2,100). The industry sectors that reported the largest monthly payroll declines were: Professional and Business Services (-3,700), Manufacturing (-2,500) and Information (-200).

The state’s unemployment rate was +1.3 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for June, which was 5.9 percent, up +0.1 percentage point from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -7.0 percentage points from a year ago when it was at 14.2 percent.

Increasing concerns about Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund deficit. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans lost their jobs under conditions that required them to file for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. These UI payments, exacerbated by reported widespread improper application activity and UI fraud, have forced the Illinois Department of Employment Security to pay out billions of dollars in UI benefits. The federal government offered interest-free loans to the 50 states to make UI payments of this type, and Illinois has borrowed $4.2 billion from the feds. With Illinois unemployment continuing to rise in June 2021, this debt could further increase to more than $5 billion, which will be a record deficit level for the UI Trust Fund. Furthermore, starting in September 2021 the federal government is scheduled to start to charge interest on these loans.

Under current State and federal law, Illinois will soon be required to increase the UI tax imposed on most Illinois employers. Money from this projected tax increase will start paying back this massive loan plus interest, but will further dampen the employment picture in Illinois. More jobs will move from Illinois to other states where the overall burden of taxes on the employer-employee relationship, including but not limited to UI taxes, is better than Illinois.

TRANSPORTATION
Secretary of State Jesse White reminds residents to be aware of scams targeting Illinoisans. Due to fraudsters’ continued attempts to entice the public into falling victim to scam texts and email, Secretary of State Jesse White is reminding residents to be on alert for multiple scams claiming to be from the Secretary of State’s office seeking personal information to defraud Illinoisans.

“I have zero tolerance for fraudsters who prey on people in desperate times,” said White. “My office is working with the Illinois Attorney General’s office to protect Illinoisans from falling victim to these fraudulent schemes.”

White is again reminding the public to beware of scammers who are sending unsolicited text messages or emails claiming to be from the Illinois Secretary of State. In some instances, the scammers copy the Secretary of State website logos and masthead to appear official.

White says these texts and emails are scams and recipients should not click on any links or provide any information. Visiting these various fraudulent websites could place malware on the recipients’ devices or trick them into disclosing sensitive personal information. The Secretary of State’s office NEVER requests personal information, like a Social Security number, via text message or email.

“Delete the text or email,” said White. “Do not click on them and do not provide any of your personal information.”

White encourages people to take steps to protect their personal information:

  • Delete emails and texts that promise or offer access to driver’s licenses or state ID cards, and do not click on any links contained in such emails or text messages, as they may place malware on your devices. 
  • Hang up on any calls, including robocalls, which ask individuals to take immediate action or provide personally-identifiable information, such as your Social Security number or bank account number. 
  • Ask to use other types of identifiers besides your Social Security number. 
  • Keep your software up to date, including your phone and computer operating systems and antivirus protection programs. Most phones, computers and antivirus software can be set to update automatically when new software versions are released. 

To provide screenshots of emails of the fraudulent texts or emails, please submit them to [email protected] If you have clicked on a link, provided your personal information or believe you have been a victim of identity theft, please call he Illinois Attorney General’s Identity Theft Hotline at 866-999-5630.

YOUTH
New State law officially legalizes lemonade stands. Many lemonade stands spring up across Illinois in the summer months. Until this year, a case could be made that most or all of them have been nominally illegal, due to the passage of public health laws decades ago. Enacted at a time when chain grocery superstores were starting up, these laws require that many foodstuffs meant for human consumption be packaged and sold in a facility that is open for inspection by authorities.

In line with the growth of farmers’ markets and local street food vendors throughout the state, many Illinoisans have called for enactment of bipartisan legislation to modify public health restrictions. “Hayli’s Law” allows for lemonade stands to be operated by children under the age of 16. The General Assembly passed the legislation after officials in Kankakee shut down 12-year-old Hayli Martinez’s lemonade stand. Senate Bill 119 was approved unanimously by the Illinois House and was signed into law on Friday, July 9.


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