CAPITOL RECAP: Madigan suspends speaker campaign; veterans affairs director resigns

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By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – House Speaker Michael Madigan announced he would suspend his campaign for House Speaker of the 102nd General Assembly on Monday, Jan. 11, but his statement made clear he was not withdrawing from the race.

“This is not a withdrawal. I have suspended my campaign for speaker,” Madigan said in a statement released by his office Monday morning.  “As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first. The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”

The last sentence of the brief statement is indicative of the uphill battle Madigan’s challengers will have to climb – they will need 60 votes, or 42 more than any challenger appeared to have Sunday night. 

The House speaker is chosen by House members, and can receive both Republican and Democratic votes. There are 73 Democrats and 45 Republicans who will be seated in the 102nd General Assembly.

Traditionally, however, a majority party speaker receives votes from members of their own party.

In the first closed-door unofficial ballot conducted between Democrats in a private room at the Bank of Springfield Center on Sunday night, Madigan received 51 votes, according to several reports confirmed by Capitol News Illinois.

The speaker also has the endorsement of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus – two key voting blocs that make up the majority of his support, although some individual members of those caucuses have said they would not vote for Madigan.

The second leading vote-getter in the closed-door meeting was Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, who had just 18 votes. Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, had three votes. Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, dropped out of the race before the vote, giving her support to Williams. On Tuesday, both Williams and Kifowit withdrew their candidacies.

The official vote does not happen until Wednesday, Jan. 13, when the 102nd General Assembly is scheduled to convene, seating new and reelected members.

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WELCH EMERGES: One day after state House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, announced a suspension – but not a withdrawal – of his campaign for another term as speaker, a state representative who has been accused of being a staunch Madigan protector has launched a bid for the post.

Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, has the backing of House Black Caucus members, a voting bloc that had previously supported Madigan’s re-election. Of the 22 House members of the Black Caucus, all but Maurice West, D-Rockford, had supported Madigan for another term.

But in a closed-door meeting of the Black Caucus on Monday evening, Jan. 11, during a pause in floor debate of its massive legislative agenda, Welch was put forward as a candidate in the race that is not scheduled for an official public vote until Wednesday, Jan. 12.

“I am honored to be called upon my colleagues from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to put my name in for consideration,” Welch said in a statement Tuesday morning, Jan. 12. “This historic moment in Illinois and across the country calls for new representation and unity of democratic beliefs. I want to thank Speaker Madigan for his leadership – it has been a challenging year for us all but I am grateful for his commitment to serving the public.”

Welch has most recently been in the news as the chairman of a House committee launched by Republicans to investigate Madigan’s ties to Commonwealth Edison, the state’s largest public utility which admitted in a bombshell court document in July to seeking to influence the speaker to pass favorable legislation to the company in exchange for jobs for Madigan’s associates.

Madigan has not been charged and denies wrongdoing, but the House investigating committee sought to prove conduct unbecoming of a legislator, not to charge him with a crime.

Welch and two other Democrats on the committee voted to end the investigation after just three meetings in four months.

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WILLIAMS WITHDRAWS: Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, who received 18 votes in an initial House speaker ballot taken Sunday night, Jan. 10, behind closed doors prior to Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch’s candidacy and current House Speaker Michael Madigan’s suspension of his campaign, announced her withdrawal from the race Tuesday night, Jan. 12. Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, who received three votes in that ballot, also dropped out Tuesday. She was the first candidate to challenge Madigan.  

 “I couldn’t be more grateful for all those who encouraged and supported me along the way. I am proud of what we accomplished and the steps we took to begin a new chapter in the Illinois House. We made history,” Williams said in a statement Tuesday. “The House Democratic Caucus continues to debate the best path forward and I am confident that we will reach a decision together and get to work for the people of Illinois. I will continue to push for strong and independent women to lead - not just in the Illinois House, but at all levels of government.”

Neither a woman nor a person of color has ever served as speaker in Illinois.

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CHAPA LaVIA RESIGNS: Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia resigned Monday,  Jan. 11, more than two months after an outbreak was first reported at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home that has killed more than a quarter of the facility’s residents.

Chapa LaVia is the second high-profile departure related to the outbreak at the LaSalle home in the aftermath of the deadly outbreak. LaSalle Veterans’ Home Administrator Angela Melbrech was fired on Dec. 7.

Chapa LaVia’s resignation came after a House Civil Judiciary committee hearing on Monday morning during which members questioned her handling of the outbreak at the LaSalle home, where 36 residents have died of COVID-19 since Nov. 1.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve our veterans,” LaVia said in a news release announcing her resignation effective immediately. “I’m proud of our accomplishments and I look forward to assisting the interim director in any way possible as the department continues its work to serve our heroes.”  

Gov. JB Pritzker, who appointed Chapa LaVia as IDVA director in February 2019, said during his Monday COVID-19 news conference it was a “mutual decision” for her to resign.

“What we want to do is restore confidence. We want to do our best to take care of our veterans,” Pritzker said. “As you know, Linda Chapa LaVia had served for a number of years in the Legislature. She's somebody who cares deeply about veterans. Her appointment, as all the appointments of my Cabinet, come up in about a week for reappointment or not. And it was a mutual decision that she would step down.”

Maj. Gen. Peter Nezamis has been named the department’s interim director. He currently serves as the assistant adjutant general - air, at the Illinois Air National Guard. 

Three members of the House Civil Judiciary committee — Reps. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, David Welter, R-Morris, and Daniel Didech, D-Buffalo Grove — issued statements immediately following the committee hearing.

The lawmakers said Chapa LaVia’s performance during the hearing reflected poor leadership which caused them to lose confidence in her ability to lead the agency.

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ELECTION BILL: The House Executive Committee advanced an election bill that would make permanent some of the expansions to mail-in voting that were passed for the 2020 general election.

The bill would require election authorities to accept mail-in ballots that were submitted without sufficient postage and allow election authorities to set up collection sites or drop-boxes that accept ballots without postage.

Lawmakers approved those measures last spring for the 2020 election in order to accommodate concerns about voting in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. But those earlier expansions of mail-in voting expired on Jan. 1.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said those vote-by-mail provisions were successful in the 2020 general election and should continue in the upcoming consolidated elections. The consolidated primary election is scheduled for Feb. 23.

“This will be permanent because our election authorities who chose to use it found it was successful,” Stuart said.

The bill would also allow local election authorities to continue the use of curbside voting during early voting or on Election Day.

It would not require local election offices to mail or email vote-by-mail ballot applications to voters who cast a ballot in previous elections. This measure was included in the previous vote-by-mail law for the 2020 general election but will not be extended.

In order for a ballot returned to a drop-box to be counted in an election, it must be returned before voting closes on Election Day.

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EDUCATION REFORM: A bill aimed at improving racial equity throughout the state’s K-12 and higher education system passed both houses of the General Assembly on Monday, Jan. 11.

House Bill 2170, drew sharp debate in both chambers. That bill creates a number of new mandates for K-12 education, including changes to the state’s social studies requirements, a requirement for districts to provide computer literacy programs and for the State Board of Education to develop new computer science curriculum standards.

But the one that drew the sharpest disagreement concerned changes to the AIM HIGH grant program in higher education, which is currently funded equally between the state and state universities.

Under the bill, universities where 49 percent or more of the students qualify for federal Pell grants would only have to fund 20 percent of a student’s AIM HIGH award while universities where fewer than 49 percent of students receive Pell grants would have to fund 60 percent of the award.

The intent of that provision was to lower the cost to schools with smaller endowment funds such as Chicago State University, which last year returned $800,000 of the $1 million in state funds it was allotted, saying it could not afford to pay for its share of the match.

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MANAGED CARE: A House committee on Monday, Jan. 11, advanced a bill that would end the system of hiring private insurance companies to manage the state’s Medicaid program at the end of their current contracts and replace it with a standard fee-for-service payment system.

The bill also calls for a three-year moratorium on any hospital closures or downsizing.

However, it is expected that further amendments to the bill are being drafted, and it was unclear Monday whether a final version could be approved by both chambers of the General Assembly before the special lame duck session ends, either Tuesday, Jan. 12, or early Wednesday, Jan. 13.

That proposal is part of a health care reform package being pushed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, an agenda aimed at addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s health care system.

Medicaid covers more than 3 million people in Illinois, according to the latest tally by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and the majority of them are enrolled in a managed care program. Nearly half of those enrollees, more than 1.4 million, are children in low-income families. Another 1.1 million are working-age adults, including more than 640,000 who became eligible with the federal expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The idea behind managed care was to reduce costs and improve health outcomes by coordinating each person’s health care – making sure they get regular checkups and follow-up visits and coordinating services between primary care providers and specialists.

But critics of the program have long argued that the insurance companies, known as managed care organizations, or MCOs, don’t really save money by reducing costs but, rather, by denying claims.

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CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: The Illinois House of Representatives continued to debate a massive criminal justice omnibus bill Sunday, Jan. 10, that would transform policing practices in the state.

A 611-page amendment to House Bill 163 would heavily revamp use-of-force guidelines, mandate body cameras for every law enforcement agency, end cash bail, remove some qualified immunity protections, and strip collective bargaining rights relating to discipline from police unions. Further language could be added in a future amendment as well.

The legislation, which is the culmination of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus agenda to end systemic racism, faces opposition from law enforcement groups and Republican lawmakers.

“This has been a 400-year-plus journey that we have been on,” Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Chicago Democrat who helped craft HB163, said in a news conference held Sunday morning by the Black Caucus.

“We want to go from protest to progress,” he repeated three times with increasing emphasis.

Slaughter chairs the House Criminal Judiciary Committee, which must accept the amendment before it can go to the House floor for a vote. The committee heard testimony and debate on the bill from law enforcement, municipal representation, legal experts and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

HB163 would amend the acceptable forms of force by officers, banning chokeholds and restraints that can restrict breathing as well as severely limiting the situations where deadly force is authorized. The reforms were strongly opposed by the law enforcement coalition during the hearing.

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle, representing the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, called the proposed reforms “catastrophic” to law enforcement and said they would make policing impossible for officers that have to make split-second decisions.

Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black, who serves as president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said he supports reforms to use of force but HB163 is not the answer.

Body cameras would be mandatory for all law enforcement agencies under the law. Larger agencies would be required to have cameras in place by Jan. 1, 2022, and all agencies would need to have cameras in place by 2025.

Any municipality or county whose law enforcement agency does not comply would have its Local Government Distributive Fund contributions from the state reduced by 20 percent each year until it meets the requirements. The LGDF is the portion of state income tax revenue that goes to cities and counties.

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PRITZKER ON REFORMS: Gov. JB Pritzker took questions on a massive criminal justice omnibus bill backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus on Monday, Jan. 11, noting he was generally “in favor of the process and the work that the Black Caucus has done overall.”

When pressed on specific provisions in the bill that have been seen as controversial, especially as it relates to changes in how policing is done in the state, Pritzker said he would wait until the final version of the bill is presented to him.

“Those bills are quite extensive, I’m not going to go down every issue,” he said. “But, I have favored ending cash bail, I’ve worked with (Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago) on it. … I favor the work that (Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul) is doing on police reform, we’re all working together, I think, to get good results.”

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POLICE CERTIFICATION:A new bill would revamp the way police certification works in Illinois.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Elgie Sims and Rep. Justin Slaughter, both Chicago Democrats, alters the Illinois Administrative Code as it relates to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.

An amendment to House Bill 841 filed Friday, Jan. 9, would create the Illinois Law Enforcement Certification Review Panel to conduct oversight of officers found to have engaged in misconduct, create a mandatory reporting system for officer training compliance and increase transparency surrounding the conduct of individual officers.

Under the proposal, ILETSB would be granted greater discretionary power to decertify officers based on the determinations of the Certification Review Panel. Officers found to have committed an act that would be a felony or misdemeanor, even if not convicted or charged, would also be subject to decertification.

Additional offenses that could result in decertification would also be included: excessive use of force; failing to intervene when another officer uses excessive force; tampering with dash or body cameras, including the footage created by these cameras or directing others to do so; committing perjury, making false statements or tampering with evidence; and engaging in conduct of “moral turpitude,” which would be defined as any action that goes against the responsibility to protect the public or an action that sullies the integrity of law enforcement.

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LAME DUCK SESSION BEGINS: Illinois House lawmakers were back in the capital city Friday, Jan. 8, for the first time since May, kicking off a five-day “lame duck” legislative session.

No substantive action was taken in the brief House session Friday, which began with Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, requesting greater access for members of the media in the Bank of Springfield Center which hosted the session. Only a handful of reporters were allowed on the second level of the 7,700-seat arena due to strict COVID-19 restrictions.

The venue is the same as it was in May, but reporters had requested better access to lawmakers on the floor of the center. No such expanded access was granted Friday.

Shortly after convening, Democrats called for a closed-door caucus meeting to discuss an expansive criminal justice reform measure and other priorities of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.

Prospective candidates to unseat House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has held that position for all but two years since 1983, were also scheduled to make their case in the private caucus meeting. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, and Ann Williams, D-Chicago, are the three declared challengers to Madigan.

At least 19 members of the House Democratic caucus have said they will not support Madigan, putting him several votes shy of the 60 needed to retain the gavel. The 102nd session of the General Assembly is set to convene Wednesday, Jan. 13, following adjournment of lame duck session, at which point a speaker must be chosen before substantial action can be taken.

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PRITZKER'S TAX PRIORITIES: Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, Jan. 8, announced his top priority for the lame duck session, a series of tax changes that he says would save the state about $520 million for this fiscal year.

The bulk of that, roughly $500 million, would come from decoupling a portion the state’s tax code from the federal tax code so that business tax cuts approved by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus, or CARES Act, last year would not automatically reduce Illinois state revenue.

Without decoupling, the governor’s office said, those changes at the federal level would automatically reduce the amount of business income that is taxable by the state of Illinois.

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Pritzker also announced that he is unilaterally delaying the effective date of certain business tax credits that the Illinois General Assembly passed in 2019, and which were scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, as part of a package known as the Blue Collar Jobs Act. Those involved expansions of certain tax credits that businesses could take for relocating to Illinois or expanding existing facilities in the state.

“Right now, we cannot afford to expand tax breaks to businesses that already receive tax breaks,” Pritzker said in a news release. “As we recover from the pandemic, we must focus on job creation and balancing our state budget.”

But House Republicans, especially those who helped negotiate the Blue Collar Jobs Act, said Pritzker’s actions would hurt small businesses that have been severely affected by the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and would ultimately make Illinois less economically competitive.

“That’s precisely the kind of tool that we’ll need as we emerge from the pandemic and the entire world starts to rebuild the economies that have been so profoundly impacted by these closures,” Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said during a news conference.

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ECONOMIC EQUITY: As the General Assembly’s lame duck session moved into its third day, lawmakers in both chambers turned their attention to a sweeping bill aimed at narrowing economic disparities faced by Black and brown communities in Illinois.

That is one of the four pillars that make up the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda, which has been the focus of the lame duck session thus far.

The proposed Economic Equity Act, House Bill 5871, was introduced Thursday, Jan. 7, by Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, and like many of the other bills being pushed by the ILBC, it drew general praise for its intent, but criticism over a number of specific parts.

The 334-page bill contains sections dealing with predatory lending, the use of criminal background checks in employment decisions and housing, diversity requirements in state contracting and purchasing, and the removal of lead water pipes in public water systems, something that advocates say disproportionately affects communities of color.

It also would create a new African Descent-Citizens Reparations Commission that, among other things, would be charged with developing future legislation to require corporations and other institutions to disclose any past ties to the slave trade and to negotiate financial reparations.

“This pillar is part of the Black Caucus’ agenda to end systemic racism,” Harper said of the bill on Sunday, Jan. 10. “In this pillar, we are addressing several different areas such as banking and investment, economic mobility, small business and entrepreneurship, procurement and the Business Enterprise Program, industry-specific equity, housing, land-use gentrification, and pay equity and workers’ rights.”

One part of the bill, called the Employee Background Fairness Act, calls for strictly limiting the ability of employers to use a person’s criminal history to deny someone a job or take any other adverse action unless there is a “direct relationship” between the conviction and the job, or if there is a specific federal, state or local law prohibiting the employment of such a person.

It also contains similar language regarding housing in buildings under the jurisdiction of public housing authorities.

The bill also contains provisions to put more restrictions on companies that offer small-dollar loans such as payday loans and vehicle title loans. Provisions include capping the interest rate they can charge at 36 percent, the same cap that applies under federal regulations for loans to members of the military.

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HIGHER EDUCATION REFORM: A bill aimed at making college education and teacher preparation programs more accessible and affordable for people of color began working its way through the General Assembly on Saturday, Jan. 9, with the formal introduction of language that lawmakers have been negotiating for months.

The action came on the second day of the General Assembly’s lame duck session, which is focused heavily on a racial and social justice agenda developed over the summer and fall by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.

Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, introduced the language in the form of a 268-page amendment to Senate Bill 458. During a hearing Saturday, she said the omnibus bill touches on numerous aspects of higher education, but she focused the hearing on a few key parts: restructuring the AIM HIGH scholarship program; increasing the diversity of the state’s teaching workforce; and reforming the way schools place students into non-credit bearing “developmental” or “remedial” classes.

AIM HIGH is a scholarship program that lawmakers first authorized as a pilot program in 2019. It provides up to $3,000 per year for students who attended an Illinois high school and who meet certain academic and financial qualifications. Currently, the cost of those scholarships is split evenly between the state and the institution.

But Ammons said that puts some smaller schools that cater to higher-need students at a disadvantage because they often lack the resources to fully fund their share of the cost, which means a portion of the state funding they are allocated goes unused.

The bill would divide public colleges and universities into two tiers. Those in which 49 percent or more of their student body is eligible for Pell grants would have to match only 20 percent of their state allocation, while those with fewer Pell grant-eligible students would be required to match 60 percent.

Increasing the diversity of the state’s K-12 teacher workforce has also been a focus of the Legislative Black Caucus agenda.

One of the ways the state tries to do that is through the Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarship program, which is open to Illinois residents who meet academic qualifications and who are from either Black, Hispanic, Asian American or Native American origin who have expressed an interest in becoming teachers.

But Robin Steans, president of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois, said funding for that program, at less than $2 million a year, has not kept up with demand or the rising cost of higher education.

Steans said the proposal also calls for setting aside up to 35 percent of the money that is allocated to the program for Black men, a group that is considered greatly underrepresented in the teaching profession. And it would specifically target high school students who graduate after completing a career pathway in teacher preparation for recruitment into the program.

The proposed bill would also seek to increase the number of minority students who actually complete a college degree.

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SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS: The grant program for small businesses owners in Illinois who suffered losses during the pandemic has run out of money.

Illinois’ Business Interruption Grant program was the largest state program of its kind, but only about 20 percent, or 8,974 applicants, received a grant.

The Illinois General Assembly created the program using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, money. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity helped administer the program, and awarded more than $275 million since the first round of grants were issued in August.

DCEO Director Erin Guthrie said this particular set of federal dollars has been exhausted, but the department continues to look for ways to help businesses statewide.

“We know that businesses are hurting and we wish that Congress would provide more relief,” Guthrie said in an interview Friday. “This virus has shut down so much of our economy, and that is a struggle for every person and business across our state. The other thing I would say is, we're constantly working with our federal counterparts, with other sources in ways that we can creatively provide relief to those businesses.”

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LIQUOR DELIVERIES: In a committee hearing Friday, Jan. 8, on the Bank of Springfield Center floor, lawmakers advanced Senate Bill 54, which allows for the home delivery of liquor throughout the state.

The bill allows retailers to use third-party groups via phone applications or internet service while removing liability for retailers if those services violate age verification laws.

In what came as a surprise to some members, the committee allowed testimony through videoconference – a first for the Illinois House. No one aside from lawmakers or staff is otherwise allowed on the BOS Center’s floor to testify.

The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild testified to ask for an amendment to allow for small brewers and distillers to deliver their own products, which the bill does not allow for, despite wineries having those abilities. 

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CAPITOL SECURITY: Just two days after hundreds of rioters broke through police barricades and vandalized the halls of Congress, Illinois lawmakers returned to the seat of government for a lame duck session.

In a statement Wednesday, Jan. 6, Gov. JB Pritzker said he asked for the Illinois State Police and other law enforcement to “redeploy to heighten their presence at government buildings and the Capitol in Springfield” Wednesday night.

Pritzker’s spokesperson did not respond to a question Thursday about whether the governor plans to deploy the Illinois National Guard at the Statehouse or other government offices for the legislative session.

The governor’s statement Wednesday came as a much smaller group of demonstrators gathered outside the Illinois Capitol to protest the election certification of President-elect Joe Biden.

There were no arrests or incidents reported at the Illinois protest, according to Henry Haupt, a spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State, who estimated it was attended by 40 to 50 people.

The Secretary of State Capitol Police force is assigned to the nine buildings comprising the State Capitol Complex. Security at the Bank of Springfield Center, where the Illinois House will meet, falls under the purview of the Illinois State Police, said Haupt.

Steve Brown, spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan, declined to comment on security procedures at the Bank of Springfield or discussions among House leadership for additional security.

“I think there is adequate security, as there was in May (during the last legislative session),” Brown said on Thursday, Jan. 7. “If you remember, visualizing the scene, (security) was pretty comprehensive from what could be seen, and there were additional layers, not necessarily visible to the general public.”

John Patterson, spokesperson for Senate President Don Harmon, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Haupt said he couldn’t comment on staffing levels or security protocols at the Capitol Complex but said the Secretary of State Capitol Police are working with the Illinois State Police and other law enforcement entities to ensure the Complex and surrounding area remains safe.

Every entry point at the Capitol Complex is staffed with at least one armed Capitol Police investigator, Haupt said.

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VACCINE UPDATE: On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the Illinois Department of Public Health began reporting data regarding the delivery and administration of vaccines on its website.

As of Monday, 638,159 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had been delivered to the state in addition to 231,475 doses that had been allocated to the federally mandated Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program aimed at vaccinating people in congregate settings in Illinois.

A total 353,791 doses had been reported administered as of Friday, including 41,075 as part of the pharmacy partnership.

Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday, Jan. 12, that health care providers have up to 72 hours after administering a vaccination to report the data according to federal guidelines, so the number of vaccines reported administered lags behind the number of vaccines reported distributed.  

Over the past seven days, the state reported averaging 24,232 vaccines administered daily.  

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike on Tuesday received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Cook County Health’s North Riverside Health Center in Riverside.

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TIER 3 UPDATE: On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Gov. JB Pritzker announced the possibility of Tier 3 mitigations being lifted by Jan. 15 in regions that meet certain metrics. That represents a 14-day incubation period following New Year’s Day.

In order to transition from Tier 3 to Tier 2, a region must experience a positivity rate below 12 percent for three consecutive days. It must also have greater than 20 percent available intensive care unit and hospital bed availability and declining COVID hospitalizations for 7 of the 10 days. 

Regions began hitting Tier 2 restrictions in November, with statewide Tier 3 mitigations announced on Nov. 20. No region has been able to move back to Tier 1 restrictions after reaching Tier 2.

According to an IDPH document detailing Tier 2 restrictions, “IDPH will continue to track the positivity rate in regions requiring additional mitigations over a 14-day monitoring period to determine if mitigations can be relaxed, if additional mitigations are required, or if current mitigation should remain in place. If the positivity rate averages less than or equal to 6.5 percent over a 3-day period, the region will return to Phase 4 mitigations under the Restore Illinois Plan.”

Phase 4 mitigations are less strict than any of the tiers of the resurgence plan.

As of Friday, Jan. 8, only two of the state’s 11 mitigation regions meet the criteria set by the governor’s office to return to Tier 2 mitigations with one week left before they would be able to do so.

Those regions include Region 2, which covers 20 different counties in north-central Illinois, and Region 7, which covers the south suburban Kankakee and Will counties.

Under Tier 2 and 3, indoor dining is suspended. A region would have to move to Tier 1 in order to open indoor dining with limited capacity. Tier 1 restrictions also include suspension of indoor bar service.

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COVID-19 UPDATE: The statewide seven-day rolling COVID-19 case positivity rate remained below 8 percent for a third consecutive day Tuesday, Jan. 12, after decreasing for a fourth straight day.

Tuesday’s seven-day rolling positivity rate was 7.5 percent, a decrease of one-tenth of a percentage point from Monday.

The state reported 6,642 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, with an additional 117 deaths recorded over the previous 24 hours. The state has reported 1,040,168 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and the death toll climbed to 17,743 across the state’s 102 counties.

As of Monday night, 3,554 COVID-19 patients were reported to be in the hospital, an increase of 14 from the day prior, and 757 patients were in intensive care unit beds, a decrease of two from the day prior. There were 409 patients reported to be on ventilators, an increase of eight from the day prior.

The state reported 93,491 test results over the previous 24 hours for a total of more than 14.2 million tests completed since the pandemic began. That made for a one-day positivity rate of 7.1 percent.

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HOSPITALIZATIONS DECREASING: Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 continued to fall for the sixth straight week as of Sunday evening, Jan. 3. From Dec. 28 through Jan. 3, the daily average hospitalization count from COVID-19 stood at 4,099, down 7 percent from the week before, and down 33 percent, or 2,029, from the period ending Nov. 22. At the end of Sunday, there were 3,948 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, an increase of 131 from the day prior.

There were 816 intensive care beds in use by COVID-19 patients as of Sunday, an increase of 18 from the day prior. That left 25.9 percent of ICU beds open statewide, while the seven-day average for ICU bed usage stood at 833. That was a decrease of 9.9 percent, or 92, from the prior seven-day period. It’s the fifth consecutive week that the average decreased.

COVID-19 patients occupied 471 ventilators as of Sunday, an increase of five from the day prior. The seven-day average for ventilator use stood at 479 as of Sunday, a decrease of 43, or 8.3 percent, from the previous seven-day period.

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UNEMPLOYMENT: House Republicans continued to criticize the Pritzker administration Wednesday, Jan. 6, as the Illinois Department of Employment Support works through ongoing staffing and fraud issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since handling a historic number of unemployment assistance claims at the outset of the pandemic in March, IDES has added staff, changed processes and implemented additional measures to prevent fraudulent claims.

On Wednesday, some House Republicans continued calls for additional measures to be implemented, such as moving staff from other state departments to assist with the overload of unemployment assistance claims, implementing more anti-fraud measures and holding public hearings to discuss issues at the department.

IDES officials pushed back on criticisms offered by the Republicans Wednesday, stating that it is not possible to move employees from other state agencies without substantial training, and that many of the anti-fraud measures being proposed by the Republicans are already in use by the department.

“We are working hard to respond to an economic crisis and stand up five new, complex federal programs while battling fraudsters who have used stolen identities to file for benefits nationwide,” said IDES Acting Director Kristin Richards in a statement.

Richards said the department was already short-staffed as a result of years of budget cuts which left IDES ill-equipped to handle the unprecedented number of claims last spring. The current employee head count is roughly half of what it was 10 years ago, she said.

Since the pandemic began, the department has contracted over 1,000 employees to assist in handling unemployment claims, and has been approved for an increase in staffing and resources for the current fiscal year, which is fiscal year 2021. It continues to hire more employees, she said.  

It has also implemented a callback only system which allows an applicant with a question to be placed in a queue to be called back, rather than having to experience extensive waits.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

 

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