CAPITOL RECAP: Amid pandemic, sweeping changes to November election in Illinois

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UPDATED SATURDAY, MAY 23

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD –A major expansion of voting access for the 2020 general election is headed to the desk of Gov. JB Pritzker after the Illinois Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure Friday, May 23.

After more than an hour of floor debate, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 1863 by a 37-19 party-line vote. Three Democrats – Jacqueline Collins, of Chicago, Robert Martwick, of Chicago, and Pat McGuire, of Crest Hill – did not vote. The bill, which Pritzker has said he supports, expands mail-in voting for the Nov. 3 general election in anticipation of social distancing and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that will make in-person voting more challenging.

The bill requires Illinois’ local election offices, by Aug. 1, to mail or email vote-by-mail ballot applications to any voter who cast a ballot in 2018, 2019 or 2020, as well as voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary.

Bill proponents estimate 4.8 million people will receive applications. The bill also states that by Sept. 15, the secretary of state must send a notice to people who received an application but have not yet returned it.

Completed ballots would be returned via mail or in new “collection sites,” that would consist of boxes placed in locations at the discretion of local election officials.

As for voting in person, the bill would allow local election authorities to implement curbside voting, in which voters can drive up, be handed a ballot and fill it out in their cars.

SB 1863 would also expands the existing Election Day a state holiday for state employees to include public schools and universities, but only for the 2020 election.

The collection site and curbside provisions are optional for local clerks. They would also have the option to facilitate early-voting hours for people with certain health conditions.

Among the issues that Republican senators raised to state Sen. Julie Morrison D-Lake Forest, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, were costs, input from county clerks, the security of collection sites and ballot applications being sent automatically and in some cases by email.

The Illinois State Board of Elections filed a fiscal note saying that if the bill’s provisions are fully implemented by every local election authority, it would eat up every dollar of the more than $16.7 million the state will receive from the federal CARES Act for elections.

House sponsor Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, however, said during floor debate on Thursday, May 21, that ISBE’s estimate is “extremely generous” because she does not expect every election office to implement every provision.

Pritzker threw his support behind SB 1863 on Thursday, May 21, saying during his daily briefing that it balances voting access with available resources.

“I’m very much in favor of making sure that everybody gets a ballot who is eligible to vote and then returns that ballot,” he said.

The measure passed the House of Representatives 72-43 on Thursday evening.

* * *

STATE BUDGET: Illinois lawmakers worked into the evening Friday, May 22, and will return Saturday, May 23, in hopes of passing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, one of the Senate’s lead budget negotiators, said the package will look similar to the current year’s budget of a little more than $41 billion, although it will rely on borrowing up to $5 billion from the Federal Reserve to make up for a sharp loss in revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan is to pay that money back with federal aid to states that lawmakers expect Congress to approve soon.

It also sets up a special new fund called the Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency, or CURE, Fund to receive federal aid that has already been appropriated, as well as any additional federal aid that Congress approves for states in the future.

“That is the largest, most profound moving part that we’ve been attempting to get our hands around now for several weeks,” Manar said. “We are still learning about the (federal) CARES Act, even though it was passed, I think, well over a month ago at this point.”

Both chambers passed Senate Bill 2099 Friday with two amendments to set up the borrowing program. It authorizes the state to borrow up to $5 billion on a short-term basis through the Fed’s Municipal Liquidity Facility, a program through which the central bank will buy the debt of state and local governments that need to borrow in order to fill in revenue holes.

* * *

REOPENING PLAN: On just the third day of legislative session since March 5, Senate Republicans called a socially distanced outdoor news conference Friday, May 22, to argue for a more collaborative approach to state government and pandemic response going forward.

“This discussion needs to go beyond 2:30 in the afternoon press conferences,” Sen. Minority Leader Bill Brady said outside the Capitol, referencing the daily COVID-19 news briefings held by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Brady, of Bloomington, said the briefings are useful in informing the state, but the General Assembly needs to have a more prominent role than just a 3-day legislative session when it comes to restarting the state’s economy.

“And we have a duty and an obligation to represent the people, and we're calling on the General Assembly, its leaders and the governor to provide that venue, so that we can make collective decisions about how we reengage Illinois’ economy in a safe way for its citizens and the people we represent,” he added.

Brady was accompanied by members of his Senate Republican caucus on the Capitol grounds, all of them masked and at arms’ length from each other.

While Pritzker has frequently said he remains in consultation with Republican lawmakers and elected officials across the state, Brady said that’s not the proper avenue for legislative deliberation.

“I talked to the governor yesterday. I talked to him a couple times,” he said. “He listens. And then he goes with his experts and he does what he wants. That's not a debate. That's not a discussion like we're used to and the people expect us to have.”

Pritzker said he disagreed with the leader’s comments during his news briefing later in the day.

“Bill knows better,” Pritzker said when asked about the comments. “The truth is that I've talked to many, many Republican legislators, you've seen changes that I've made along the way. Many of them have been recommended by Republican legislators. And as to staying in town, look again they are co-equal branch, the Legislature has the ability to do that.”

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GRADUATED TAX LANGUAGE: The language of the graduated income tax ballot measure is finalized after the House joined the Senate in approving it Friday, May 22.

It will read: “The proposed amendment grants the State authority to impose higher income tax rates on higher income levels, which is how the federal government and a majority of other states do it. The amendment would remove the portion of the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution that is sometimes referred to as the "flat tax," that requires all taxes on income to be at the same rate. The amendment does not itself change tax rates. It gives the State the ability to impose higher tax rates on those with higher income levels and lower income tax rates on those with middle or lower income levels. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become a part of the Illinois Constitution.”

During debate in the House, Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, argued that Democrats, by noting the graduated structure is “how the federal government and a majority of other states do it,” are essentially including an argument for the measure in what should be an unbiased description.

Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat, argued that the statement is factual.

The text for a pamphlet which will, by law, be sent to “every mailing address in the state, addressed to the attention of the postal patron,” was also finalized. That pamphlet will contain the description of the measure, as well as arguments for and arguments against.

* * *

COVID-19 HEALTH STATISTICS: The Illinois Department of Public Health reported on Friday another 110 deaths related to COVID-19, bring the total of virus-related fatalities to 4,715. There were another 2,758 confirmed cases among 25,113 persons tested in the past 24 hours. There are now more than 105,444 confirmed cases in 100 counties out of 697,133 specimens tested.

Hospitalization numbers remain relatively flat, as there were 3,928 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of midnight Friday, with 1,060 of them in intensive care unit beds and 589 on ventilators.

* * *

REOPENING DAY CARE CENTERS: All of the state’s 5,000-plus child care providers not in operation will be advised to reopen Friday, May 29, provided the state’s four regions under Gov. JB Pritzker’s reopening plan continue to progress toward the third phase of the plan by that date.

Providers that have been closed must develop a reopening plan that ensures they have revised operational and preparedness policies in place before opening, the governor said. All providers will be expected to resume compliance with all licensing standards related to curriculum, learning environment and staff qualifications.

All four regions in Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan are on pace to enter Phase 3 next week.

“We can't have a conversation about going back to work without talking about childcare,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing from his Capitol office Friday. “If we don't have child care, a large portion of the workforce, especially women, who too often bear a disproportionate burden, will be without any way to move forward without caring for their child themselves.”

Pritzker said for the first four weeks that they're open, providers will be able to serve up to 10 children per classroom.

“Once they have provided care safely for four weeks and have gotten accustomed to the new health, social distancing and sanitation routines, they will be able to expand to larger group sizes, though not yet at their fully licensed capacity,” he said.

* * *

RELIGIOUS SERVICES: As Illinois prepares to enter Phase 3 of 5, Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, May 22, addressed the potential of reopening religious institutions on the same day President Donald Trump deemed those facilities “essential” and called for mass reopenings.

“My team and I have received a lot of excellent proposals and ideas from different religious groups on how to safely expand their services,” Pritzker said. “From a broad standpoint, I can say that outdoor faith services, including but not limited to drive-in church services, will be welcomed in Phase 3. And we continue to collaborate with faith leaders to ensure that they can hold services in safe and creative ways that allow for worship, while protecting their congregants.”

When asked about Trump’s call for reopening, Pritzker encouraged faith leaders to stay the course in not holding mass religious gatherings indoors.

“We're gonna continue to operate on the basis of science and data and I'm as anxious as anybody to make sure that our churches, our mosques, our synagogues open back to where they were before COVID-19 came along,” he said. “We're gradually moving in that direction, but there's no doubt, the most important thing is we do not want parishioners to get ill because their faith leaders bring them together.”

* * *

STAY-AT-HOME LEGISLATION: Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, May 22, said he was looking for help from the General Assembly in terms of enforcing the stay-at-home order.

Pritzker’s administration withdrew an emergency rule this month that would have allowed for the filing of Class A misdemeanor charges against those who disregard his stay-at-home order amid opposition from lawmakers in a key committee. He said Friday he would be disappointed if lawmakers did not approve a measure to allow for lesser fines without misdemeanor charges if a business ignores his order.

He said the General Assembly “does not appear to want to raise and hold a vote on” such a measure.

“I mean the Legislature has been asking for months and months, they've wanted to come together, because they consider themselves, and they are, a co-equal branch of government, along with the judiciary branch and the executive branch,” he said. “And it is their obligation, frankly, to do their duty. They don't seem to want to help in any way, dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, by offering us the ability to use a small enforcement mechanism that we've asked for.”

* * *

RECORD UNEMPLOYMENT: The unemployment rate in Illinois reached a staggering 16.4 percent in April, the highest rate recorded since the modern system of tracking joblessness began in 1976, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Thursday, May 21.

The previous record of 13.9 percent was set in February 1983, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The rate in April was 12.2 percentage points higher than March, which was revised downward to 4.2 percent, reflecting a revised estimate of the number of people in the labor force that month.

That news came just a few months after the state set a record low unemployment rate of 3.4 percent in November, reflecting the speed with which the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a virtual shutdown of most of the state and national economies.

The numbers reflect an overall loss of 762,200 nonfarm jobs since March, the largest single-month decline in state history, and a decline of 822,800 jobs since April 2019.

* * *

DATA BREACH: The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced Friday, May 22, it will notify 32,483 claimants whose personal information might have been viewed because of a “glitch” in the newly-launched Pandemic Unemployment Assistance portal.

In a news release, IDES said it worked to fix the “glitch” with Deloitte, the outside firm contracted to launch the PUA system created under federal law to give benefits to independent contractors and those who are self-employed.

IDES said the personal information of some of the 32,000-plus claimants “may have been unintentionally viewed by a single claimant.”

“The claimant immediately reported the issue within the PUA system. Computer records confirm that no other individuals viewed claimant information, which could have included names, Social Security numbers, and street addresses associated with PUA claims,” IDES said in the news release. “Based on the department’s investigation, it is believed that the claimant unintentionally viewed the information of a handful of other claimants and there is no indication that any personal information was, or will be, improperly used.”

The department will notify the claimants possibly affected “out of an abundance of caution.”

* * *

WORKERS' COMP BILL: A compromise bill between business and labor which deals with COVID-19 and workers’ compensation passed the House on Friday, May 22, with broad bipartisan support and will head to the governor.

House Bill 2455 was carried by Democrats Linda Holmes of Aurora in the Senate and Jay Hoffman of Swansea in the House. Much of the floor debate on the measure centered on the bipartisan negotiations which included business and labor interests.

Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, echoed that sentiment after brief questioning Thursday.

Among other things, the “labor omnibus bill” created, for the purpose of death benefits, a rebuttable presumption that a police officer or firefighter who dies as a result of COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job.

The officer or firefighter must have contracted the virus between March 9 and Dec. 31, 2020.

The bill also ensures Illinois continues to qualify for federal relief by extending unemployment benefits, waiving a one-week unemployment insurance waiting period and expanding eligibility for unemployment to non-instructional education employees, such as lunch workers and teachers’ aides, according to a news release from Holmes. 

According to the bill, employers would not be charged for unemployment benefits issued between March 15 and Dec. 31 that were paid to those out of work due to COVID-19.

The legislation also creates a “rebuttable presumption” that a first-responder or essential worker who contracts COVID-19 did so in the course of their employment. Employers, however, would have avenues to rebut the worker’s claim.

* * *

BAILEY LAWSUIT: A Republican representative gained an ally in his lawsuit challenging Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s authority to issue successive disaster proclamations.

The U.S. attorney general’s office asked a federal court to undo the state’s Thursday, May 21, venue change in Xenia Rep. Darren Bailey’s case from downstate Clay County to the federal district courthouse in East St. Louis. Or, if the court declines to do that, federal authorities urged it to rule in favor of Bailey.

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Hours before the attorneys were due to respond to Bailey’s request for Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney to rule on his case, and one day before a hearing was set, the Illinois attorney general’s office moved the case.

Thomas Verticchio, senior attorney general, wrote in the office’s notice that Bailey alleged Pritzker’s stay-at-home and disaster proclamations violated his rights to religion, due process, interstate travel and “a Republican form of government” which are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Bailey’s attorneys called that action an effort to “judge shop.”

Five U.S. lawyers wrote in a 21-page filing Friday, May 22, that the federal government does not “typically” get involved in cases challenging abuse of state law. But Bailey’s representatives, they continued, argued “a strong case” that Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders overstepped the emergency powers granted to him by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act.

A spokesperson for the Illinois attorney general’s office did not return a request for comment.

Bailey, in a text message, said he is “very pleased” the U.S. attorney general’s office took an interest in his case. He added, “justice is coming.”

* * *

FIXES TO MARIJUANA BILL: The Senate on Thursday, May 21, approved House Bill 123, making minor changes to the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act that “make sure it can work effectively,” according to sponsor Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.

Senators were called to the floor in groups of 10 to cast their votes as side conversations filled the room and several members stood well within six feet of each other. All wore masks, with a few pulling them below their nose or mouth at times.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, made several calls for members to appear in the chamber to vote for the bill, which ultimately passed 46-10.

Some bill sponsors were barely audible amid the side chatter as the chamber moved along with its action list after several months away from the Capitol.

* * *

COVID-19 COMPENSATION FOR FIRST RESPONDERS: Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, on Thursday, May 21, moved her House Bill 2455, which she said was an agreed bill between business and labor regarding workers compensation and COVID-19.

Among other things, the “labor omnibus bill” created, for the purpose of death benefits, a rebuttable presumption that a police officer or firefighter who dies as a result of COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job. The officer or firefighter must have contracted the virus between March 9 and Dec. 31, 2020.

Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, asked questions regarding legislative intent and ultimately agreed the bill was a strong product of bipartisan negotiation. It passed by a 50-4 vote.

* * *

PHASE 3 MODIFICATIONS: As the entire state remains on pace to enter the next phase of reopening in just nine days, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a major addition to the allowed activities under the phase: outdoor dining at restaurants.

Pritzker on Wednesday, May 20, said restaurants will be able to open outdoor seating to customers when the businesses’ region moves into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois reopening plan, which all four regions are on pace to do on May 29.

“With the right restrictions, tables six feet apart and away from the sidewalks, masks and distancing measures for staff and other precautions, the experts believe that these services can open at a risk comparable to other outdoor activities,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in his office at the Capitol, the first time he’s held a briefing in Springfield since March 16.

Pritzker said that no specific restaurant or legal action forced the addition of outdoor seating to the Phase 3 plan. Instead, he said that he has been continuously listening to health experts and industry leaders.

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said at Wednesday’s briefing that outdoor seating will not be a solution for every restaurant, but it will be “a benefit to many at a time when every dollar counts.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health will issue specific guidance in the coming days. Restaurants are not slated to open to indoor dining until Phase 4.

All state parks will reopen on May 29 under Phase 3, Pritzker announced Wednesday. Phase 3 will also include the reopening of indoor and outdoor tennis facilities with IDPH safety precautions and capacity limits.

Golf courses will allow four people per tee time and golf carts will be permitted with either one person or one immediate household per cart. Boating and camping of up to 10 people will also be permitted.

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RESTORE ILLINOIS:All of Illinois is “on track” to progress into the next phase of Gov. JB Pritzker’s plan to reopen the state safely, he said Tuesday, May 19, during his daily update teleconference in Chicago.

The current phase of the plan allows residents to visit golf courses and state parks, retail shops to deliver orders placed remotely and medical centers to allow elective surgeries to resume.

By moving into the “Recovery” phase in 10 days, offices, salons, barbershops and manufacturers will begin to return with some capacity restrictions. Pritzker said the progress in various metrics — including the rate of positive COVID-19 tests, hospital admissions and ventilator availability — is “terrific news.”

The governor added while some residents are “itching” to move ahead quicker than the 28-day period prescribed, the Restore Illinois plan was designed by experts to ensure safety.

“I can say with confidence that here in Illinois, we’ve committed to operating with a focus on public health and transparent measurable benchmarks to move to each new phase,” Pritzker said. “...There’s no doubt this is hard, but public health means that each of us is working to protect all of us.”

Also difficult is residents living in border communities seeing restaurants, bars and shops open in Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, he added.

* * *

YOUTH SPORTS: Gov. JB Pritzker faced a number of questions from news media throughout the state Thursday, May 21 on issues ranging from youth sports activities to worship services.

“I’m certainly working with (the Illinois Department of Public Health) to make sure that summer sports, to the extent we can do it with 10 or fewer people, that we want to make that happen,” he said. “More outdoor activity within the parameters of what epidemiologists are saying, I want. I think it will be difficult to have crowds in a stand watching those games, but I know that there are little league games and other sports during the summer that perhaps could happen … and IDPH is working with folks who run those games to make sure that if you can do it, they’re done safely.”

With regard to worship services and retail businesses, however, Pritzker indicated he is not backing away from the 10-person limit.

* * *

EMERGENCY RULE WITHDRAWN: The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Wednesday, May 20, that it plans to withdraw a controversial emergency rule that would have allowed for criminal charges against businesses that open in violation of Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

Instead, Pritzker announced Wednesday that he will pursue legislation while the General Assembly meets in special session this week. He said that bill will call for civil penalties for violations rather than criminal sanctions.

IDPH filed the emergency rule on Friday, May 15, after a number of restaurants and other businesses around Illinois announced they would no longer comply with the mandatory closure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rule codified that violations of Pritzker’s stay-at-home order could be enforceable under a law known as the Department of Public Health Act, which makes it a Class A misdemeanor to violate one of the agency’s orders.

That sparked immediate controversy, especially among Republican lawmakers who accused Pritzker of criminalizing business owners. Pritzker argued that it was a softer measure than other enforcement mechanisms the agency can use, such as issuing a closure order or revoking a business license, and he likened it to a traffic citation, even though Class A misdemeanors are criminal offenses that can be punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

IDPH announced its intent to withdraw the rule during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, a legislative body that has oversight of state agency rulemaking

About an hour later Pritzker announced at his daily COVID-19 media briefing that Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, would be the lead sponsor of a bill being drafted that would give IDPH authority to enforce its orders through civil fines.

* * *

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Precautions will be in place to check temperatures of entrants at the door, and lawmakers and others in attendance of this week's legislative session will be required to socially distance and wear face coverings. An added police presence will be patrolling downtown as protests are apparently scheduled around the venues.

Speaker Michael Madigan said in a statement Tuesday, May 19, that the House will immediately vote on new rules requiring those in attendance, including lawmakers, to follow the safety measures. Some of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus have indicated they will not wear masks during the session.

“The House will take up this rule change immediately upon convening Wednesday. After the motion passes, any member in violation of the rule change will face discipline, including potentially being removed from the chamber by a vote of the House,” Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago, said in a statement distributed by his office. “This is not an action I take lightly, but when it comes to the health and safety of members, their families, staff and the communities they represent, it is the right and prudent thing to do.”

“Staff and members of the public not observing the rules will be asked to leave the premises immediately,” Madigan added.

Illinois House members received health guidelines and the legislative agenda from Madigan’s chief of staff Tuesday.

* * *

BAILEY REMOVED: The Illinois House voted Wednesday, May 20, to remove Republican state Rep. Darren Bailey, of Xenia, from session at the Bank of Springfield Center after he refused to comply with a facial-covering requirement in newly-adopted House rules.

In a bipartisan vote, the Illinois House adopted rules Wednesday that include a requirement for members, staff members and visitors to the special session to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth, if they are medically able to do so.

Democratic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside, made a motion to remove Bailey from the House proceedings after Bailey responded “I will not,” when he was asked to come into compliance with the face covering requirement in the newly-adopted rules. The House voted 81-27 in favor of Bailey’s removal.

On Thursday, May 21, Bailey was present for the day's session, wearing a face mask.

* * *

COURTS PLAN REOPENING: Illinois’ 24 chief judges can decide when to reopen courthouses across the state to in-person proceedings, the state Supreme Court ordered Wednesday, May 20.

Each circuit is encouraged to continue holding remote hearings as frequently as possible, an extension of the highest court’s previous guidance. But beginning June 1 and in consultation with local health departments, courthouses may hold jury trials, lawsuit arguments and other actions in a courtroom.

The Supreme Court’s plan is independent of Gov. JB Pritzker’s regional Restore Illinois plan, and gives reopening authority to the head of Illinois’ 24 judicial circuits. Schedules in each district should be flexible, according to the order and guidance from justices, because “local conditions may change.”

“The court realizes that the health crisis is not over, but we must advance justice in a safe and organized manner,” Chief Justice Anne Burke said in a statement.

Restrictions implemented to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and “significant levels of backlogged cases” present an obstacle for “most courts for the foreseeable future,” the Supreme Court wrote in its guidance.

* * *

CONTACT TRACING: Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday, May 18, announced the launch of Illinois’ contact tracing program and defended an emergency rule filed Friday to allow for misdemeanor charges against businesses defying his stay-at-home order.

The contact-tracing effort for COVID-19 – one that is required to move the state along the governor’s “Restore Illinois” reopening plan – will begin in two pilot counties.

Pritzker said contact tracing, which was used early on in the state’s coronavirus outbreak when the number of cases was manageably small, consists of tracers interviewing people who have newly tested positive about who they had significant contact with in the past 48 hours.

Those people, often family, friends or coworkers, are then contacted and encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing for 14 days or get tested.

Pritzker called contact tracing “arguably our most sustainable tool” in further slowing new COVID-19 cases and lifting social and economic restrictions.

“This straightforward process truly does reduce the number of new infections,” the governor said during his daily briefing from his Chicago home. “And if done at scale, it can be a very effective weapon against COVID-19.”

Contact tracing will be conducted on the local level by Illinois’ 97 county and city health departments, but supported by the Illinois Department of Public Health. The two pilot counties, St. Clair County, outside St. Louis, and Lake County, north of Chicago, will immediately ramp up their contact tracing capabilities for newly-discovered COVID-19 patients.

* * *

FLOODING PREPARATION: Gov. JB Pritzker has activated nearly 60 National Guard soldiers to help communities along the Illinois River prepare for forecasted floods.

Pritzker on Thursday, May 21, issued disaster proclamations for four rural counties along the Illinois River: Grundy, Pike, Scott and Morgan. Grundy County is southwest of Chicago, while the other three counties are in west-central Illinois.

Soldiers will help with sandbagging operations in those communities as the National Weather Service forecasts major flooding over the next several days along parts of the Illinois River, as well as minor to moderate flooding along nine other rivers.

For example, the NWS expects the Illinois River to reach major flood stage Saturday, May 23, in the small Morgan County town of Meredosia, continuing to rise through the middle of next week.

The latest deployment of National Guard personnel comes as hundreds of soldiers have been deployed in various capacities to assist Illinois’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing public health crisis will also change how the state responds to disasters.

All newly-activated soldiers will be tested for COVID-19 before they deploy to local communities and they will be given personal protective equipment, or PPE, to use when they cannot socially distance. Soldiers will also be housed within the communities they are working.

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ELECTIONS LAWSUIT: Third-party candidates will have a little less extra time to get petition signatures this election cycle after a federal judge amended her earlier order last week.

Rebecca Pallmeyer, chief judge of the Northern District Federal Court, in April had extended the deadline for third-party candidates to get the required signatures to be on the Nov. 3 ballot from June 22 to Aug. 7. She also cut the number of signatures required by 90 percent.

But two weeks later, the Illinois State Board of Elections asked Pallmeyer to make the deadline earlier to give election officials enough time to have ballots ready.

On Friday, May 15, Pallmeyer reset the deadline to July 20. The elections board had asked it to be moved back to July 6. The previous order’s allowances of fewer signatures and collecting signatures electronically remain in place.

The Illinois Libertarian and Green parties filed suit initially to have requirements loosened because, they said, Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions made meeting ballot eligibility requirements “practically impossible.”

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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