Redistricting, ethics reform, mask mandate & more
Democrats ram through revised partisan maps during special session. Following the release of the 2020 Census numbers in early August, the Illinois General Assembly met in special session on Tuesday, August 31 to vote on revised legislative redistricting maps.
What we have witnessed over the past week has been the continuation of a grand farce that began in the spring, when a partisan map-making process played out in a backroom behind a locked door using inaccurate and incomplete data that produced flawed maps drawn by politicians.
House Republicans warned that those maps would be inaccurate and unlawful – and that warning was proven true when official decennial census counts were released earlier last month. These official counts proved the Democrats’ maps violates the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and comparable provisions of the Illinois Constitution.
No lawful redistricting plan was effective on June 30, 2021 and in this situation. Illinois’ Constitution is clear – the bipartisan commission is responsible for drawing the maps. Instead of shifting responsibility to that bipartisan commission, Democrats fell back on the same disingenuous process that produced these flawed maps that needed to be re-done this week.
Over the last week, we saw Democrats hold hastily called redistricting hearings – some of which were thrown together so quickly that witnesses didn’t attend because they didn’t have time to prepare. Many community groups lack the resources to quickly analyze such a large amount of data, and they couldn’t possibly have been prepared to offer testimony. Not only that, but these hearings were held without actual maps for community groups to even comment on.
These hearings were a sham – a disingenuous effort that was intended to merely check a box, not to collect any real input from community groups. The legislators chairing these committees, the people we are supposed to entrust this process to, still couldn’t even say who is actually drawing the maps during these hearings.
The Democrats once again dropped two new versions of legislative maps in less than 24 hours, giving advocacy groupsalmost no time to review or give feedback. The final map was dropped just a few hours before the House voted on it.
We know that while these groups were testifying in front of the redistricting committees, the Democrats were once again drawing the new maps behind closed doors taking in no input from anyone other than fellow legislators.
This is not a genuine process. It’s a cynical power grab that has systematically ignored and discouraged input from the public and community groups to push through another map that violates the public’s trust.
This partisan process in which politicians draw maps will not result in the fair maps our state so desperately needs. Politicians should not be drawing maps. Period.
The Democrats’ new legislative map was introduced on Tuesday, August 31, as Floor Amendment #2 (Hernandez) to SB 927. On the same day, the House Democrats’ supermajority approved the new map by a vote of 73-43-0. Passage of the new map by partisan votes in both houses cleared the way for Governor Pritzker to sign the new map into law. This is expected to be followed by a new round of redistricting litigation.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin released the following statement on the Illinois Democrats’ passage of partisan maps Tuesday:
“Today’s vote confirms that the Illinois Democrats have no interest in honest government. Contrary to their campaign promises, the House Democrats passed a legislative map that lacks any transparency or public input. After lying to taxpayers once, the Governor now has the opportunity to live up to his campaign promises and veto this politician-drawn map.”
At an unrelated news conference on Thursday, Governor Pritzker said he hasn’t yet reviewed the details of the maps, and they haven’t yet been sent to him.
Pritzker said his principles around maps are focused on “diversity of representation for the diverse state we have.”
In June, the governor signed the initial maps into law three days after saying he still had not had a chance to review them.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin released the following statement on Governor Pritzker’s comments about the new legislative maps:
“The Governor needs to live up to his campaign pledges for a fair map and veto another attempt by the legislative Democrats to silence communities across Illinois. The Governor does not just work for the Democratic insiders who got him elected. He needs to listen to the voices of groups like the Latino Policy Forum and the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition so that all Illinoisans feel that equity and inclusion are part of the mapmaking process.”
Illinois House pays tribute to thirteen lost U.S. service personnel. In a break from partisan debate on Tuesday, August 31, Representative Dan Swanson read the names and service histories of the thirteen U.S. service personnel who had been killed in the August 26, 2021 Kabul airport terrorist attack. Swanson, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard, described the lost personnel and their families. House Republicans introduced HR 446, a resolution honoring the American lives lost in the Kabul airport attack.
USDA releases favorable Illinois crop report. After a slow start and some wet fields in spring, more Illinois farmers were looking forward to good crop yields as of the final week of August. A USDA report on Illinois crop conditions during the week ending Sunday, August 29, centered on corn and soybeans. Although only 4% of the corn crop was rated “mature” and ready for harvest, overall corn conditions were rated 70% good-to-excellent, 24% fair, and 6% poor or very poor. Bean conditions were rated 71% good-to-excellent, 22% fair, and 7% poor or very poor.
CGFA sees sharp increase in Illinois inflation. The report was published on Thursday, September 2, by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA). Inflation, the rate of increase paid by consumers for goods and services, speeded up in the greater Chicago area from a rate of 1.0% in July 2020, to 4.9% in July 2021. With continued sharp increases in the prices of motor fuel and other key commodities, this increase rate is seen as likely to continue.
Inflation is significant to the Illinois budget because it raises the prices the State and its units have to pay for goods and services, particularly (but not limited to) health care services for employees covered by health insurance. Furthermore, inflation also can increase state tax revenues by swelling the prices of retail goods on which sales taxes are paid. During the first two months of FY22, sales tax receipts have increased by 17% over prior-year sales (from $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion). These numbers for retail sales and sales tax payments are skewed by the stay-at-home climate that afflicted Illinois retail business in June and July of 2020. Soaring sales-tax numbers reflect not only inflation, but also customer recovery from the behavior patterns we saw last year.
Overall economic numbers appear to show boom conditions of the sort that have set off inflationary spirals in prior decades. Nationwide, the unemployment rate dropped to 5.4%. In many regions and economic sectors of Illinois, employers were advertising hiring opportunities and finding few or no takers. The CGFA report discusses the Illinois labor shortage on page 1, and the Illinois inflation spreadsheet is set forth on page 3. Sales tax and other revenue numbers are found on pages 8 and 9.
Mask mandate imposed; case count continues to climb. Governor Pritzker’s re-imposed face mask mandate was ordered for all indoor public spaces, effective Monday, August 30. Some state offices and local governments had already imposed face mask rules prior to that date. Gov. Pritzker also ordered large groups of people with various jobs and public positons, including prison guards, teachers and personnel in public schools, to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Despite these new vaccination and facemask orders, COVID-19 cases continued to climb in Illinois this week. There have now been more than 1.5 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, and more than 26,000 deaths are attributed to the disease. This reflects numbers that began to be collected 18 months ago in March 2020, when the virus began its long march through Illinois. Group diagnoses at elementary and secondary schools are defined as “school outbreaks,” and there are now been 26 tracked school outbreaks in 14 counties throughout Illinois. Counties that include Cook, Kane, Madison, Rock Island, Sangamon, and Will Counties have schools that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19. With many students under the age cutoff for COVID-19 vaccination (currently, the vaccine is not authorized for use for any person who has not yet reached their 12th birthday, schools are potential vector locations for COVID-19 transmission and spread.
DU QUOIN STATE FAIR
Second State Fair celebrated in Southern Illinois. The Du Quoin State Fair, held at its grandstand Fairgrounds since 1923, in running from August 27 until Monday, September 6. With traditional ties to the lives and culture of Southern Illinois, the celebration continues through Labor Day. The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, located directly adjacent to U.S. Route 51, are an example of the first generation of American “car culture.” The Fairgrounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Democrats sabotage push for real ethics reform. In January 2021, facing a federal bribery and corruption investigation, longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan abruptly stepped down from the speakership. Soon afterward, as questions continued to swirl about his actions and leadership, he left the Illinois House and relinquished his position as head of the Illinois Democratic Party.
Madigan’s departure created what briefly seemed like an opportunity for comprehensive ethics reform to end the culture of corruption in Illinois politics. However, this pathway closed quickly. Facing substantial pressure from advocates, the press, and ordinary citizens in favor of comprehensive ethics reform, Madigan’s successors chose to draft “ethics reform” legislation that made minor changes to the way the General Assembly operates and disciplines its members and top staff. The Democrats’ paltry “ethics reforms” were contained in SB 539, which was approved at the end of the spring session.
Soon after it passed, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced that she would resign, effective Dec. 15, calling the job a “paper tiger” and saying it showed that “true ethics reform is not a priority” for the General Assembly. She specifically alleged the provision limiting her ability to investigate non-governmental ethics violations, and the fact that a complaint would be required for an investigation, tied her hands.
Following that announcement, some legislative Republicans called on Pritzker to use his amendatory veto power to send the bill back for revisions, “striking the provisions that would disempower the legislative inspector general.”
In his message, however, Pritzker did not mention the office of legislative inspector general, but rather its counterpart in the executive branch, the executive inspector general.
Specifically, he pointed to a change made in the bill that says the executive inspector general may receive and investigate complaints of wrongful behavior “without advance approval of the executive ethics commission.”
On Tuesday during floor debate, Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, evoked Pope’s resignation and noted Pritzker didn’t take any proposed GOP changes into account.
“Choosing to vote to uphold this weak amendatory veto is doubling down on the fact that the ethics reform that you passed takes away the ability to have a true and independent watchdog over this body,” Bourne, who initially voted for the bill, said in floor debate. “Choosing to side with this weak amendatory veto is choosing to side to give cover to politicians, rather than having an opportunity for the public to have faith in our government.”
House Republicans were united in our opposition to the Governor’s weak amendatory veto, and House Democrats were unable to muster the votes to accept the amendatory veto after many of their members had left for the night, resulting in an impasse. SB 539 was held up on the House floor, with no final action on ethics reform taking place during the August 31 session.
General Assembly overrides Governor’s veto of ambulance legislation. Private-sector medical service providers carry out much of the day-to-day work of transporting patients to medical care, including emergency transfers done by equipped ambulances. Ambulance transport is very expensive, and insurance companies would like to control how much the ambulance firms are paid for non-emergency patient transfers. Managed care organizations (MCOs) are the key “gatekeepers” that handle records, payments, and care decisions for the swelling headcount of Illinois residents who are enrolled in some form of medical assistance.
The ambulance firms have offered, in response, to move the issue of non-emergency medical assistance transport rate reimbursement from the MCOs over to the State of Illinois. Non-emergency medical assistance ambulance rates will be researched and regulated by a State panel within the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) in the same manner as rates are now set for emergency health care transport. The General Assembly heard from all sides and accepted this compromise, enacting HB 684 in spring 2021.
To the surprise of ambulance providers and the health care industry, Gov. Pritzker then vetoed HB 684. The veto disrupted the negotiations that had taken place earlier this year in the General Assembly; and, furthermore, some smaller ambulance providers expressed the fear that vetoing the bill would create long-term threats to their financial viability. Pritzker’s veto could have potentially given some big health insurers a pathway to squeeze these care providers out of business. In the August 31 special session, the General Assembly took action to override the Governor’s veto and enact the legislation as originally passed.
Rivian files for initial public offering (IPO) equity stock trading. The Bloomington-Normal manufacturer of electric motor vehicles has filed the legal papers necessary to issue equity as a public corporation. Rivian will specialize in the assembly of battery-powered vehicles other than cars, including vans, SUVs and pickup trucks. The initial-public-offering (IPO) marker will enable equity shares of Rivian to be publicly bought and sold in a stock market. An IPO move is a traditional landmark used by financial analysts to signal the approaching ability of a firm to establish market share. Rivian leadership has told the financial community that they believe their factory, technology, and brand name are worth up to $80 billion. Rivian has established an affiliation relationship with the Ford Motor Company, and initial assembly development work has included loading a Rivian electric motor onto Ford truck frames. The firm is also affiliated with Amazon, which has placed a series of orders (totaling 100,000 vehicles) for future delivery of Rivian-powered electric delivery vans.
Rivian is assembling vehicles on the footprint of built-out property in Central Illinois originally developed by the Diamond-Star consortium. Diamond-Star was formed in 1985, and gave Central Illinois workers the opportunity to build gasoline-powered cars for 30 years. Originally a joint venture between Mitsubishi Motors and the former Chrysler Corp. (now a subsidiary of Stellantis), Diamond-Star transitioned to sole Mitsubishi ownership, and then ceased production in 2015. The Bloomington-Normal vehicle assembly site returned to American ownership and is being adaptively re-used as a factory for Rivian’s pioneering technology. Rivian and its partners have invested approximately $10.5 billion in the venture so far. The Rivian IPO is tentatively scheduled to take place in November 2021.