CAPITOL RECAP: State remains on pace to enter Phase 4 of reopening Friday

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UPDATED THURSDAY, JUNE 25

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD  – All four of the state’s medical regions remain on pace to move into Phase 4 of the governor's Restore Illinois reopening plan on Friday, June 26. In that phase, restaurants and bars could open for indoor dining at fractional capacity as long as they follow state guidelines, and gatherings up to 50 people would be allowed. PreK-12 schools, higher education and all summer programs could also open with IDPH approved safety guidance, as could fitness clubs.

The state released new guidance for reopening businesses Monday, June 22.  

Restaurants must arrange their seating facilities so that tables are 6 feet apart, and parties larger than 10 people will not be allowed, per state guidelines. Standing areas such as bars will be allowed to operate at no more than 25 percent of capacity, and staff is required to wear face coverings when serving customers.

As well, gatherings of 50 people — up from 10 — will be allowed in Illinois, including at weddings and funerals; and fitness centers, movie theaters, museums and zoos will be allowed to reopen with capacity limits and health guidelines in place. Industry-specific guidelines from the state can be found at Illinois.gov/businessguidelines.

While each of the second, third and fourth phases of the plan lasted 30 days, there is no timetable for moving from Phase 4 to Phase 5, the final phase of the plan when the state’s economy fully reopens, including conventions, festivals and large events. Per the current plan, Phase 5 cannot begin without a coronavirus vaccine or “highly effective treatment” being widely available, or without new cases of the virus being eliminated for a sustained period.

When Phase 4 begins Friday, venues will be able to host up to 50 people or 50 percent of their overall room capacity — whichever number is less. Multiple groups are permitted at certain facilities as long as there is space to social distance and limit interaction between groups.

Bowling alleys, skating rinks and clubhouses are on the list of allowable indoor and outdoor recreation under Phase 4, provided they also operate at the lesser of 50 customers or half capacity. Groups of 50 will be allowed for outdoor recreation, and multiple groups can gather if they can remain separated.

Museums and zoos can reopen at 25 percent capacity or less, but interactive exhibits and rides must be closed. Guided tours will be allowed but must be limited to 50 people or fewer per group. Indoor exhibits at zoos will remain closed as well.

Indoor-seated theaters and performing arts centers would be allowed to open with 50 guests maximum or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less, in each of the theater’s screening rooms or performance spaces. Outdoor capacity would be limited to 20 percent of overall theater or performance space capacity.

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REOPENING SCHOOLS: Illinois released new guidelines for schools, colleges and universities to return to in-person learning in the fall, but leaders warned those plans could change if health metrics related to the COVID-19 pandemic stop improving.

“This fall will not be business as usual, and we will update our guidance as needed,” State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said during a news conference Tuesday, June 23, in Chicago. “In response to challenging and changing public health conditions, schools and districts must be prepared to return to remote learning if the virus surges again.”

Students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings if they are medically able, gatherings in one place will be limited to no more than 50 people and schools must adhere to stricter cleaning and disinfecting guidelines as well as conduct regular symptom checks.

Gov. JB Pritzker said at the news conference every district must develop its own plan based on those guidelines. Ayala added districts and individual schools will soon send additional information to parents and students.

Pritzker said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide public K-12 districts in Illinois with 2.5 million cloth face masks, allowing schools to provide one to all students and staff.

Universities and community colleges will have similar guidelines for a fall reopening, including social distancing and physical spacing requirements, hand sanitizing stations, face covering requirements and symptom monitoring. Schools are also developing policies around traffic flow, cleaning of public spaces and staggered schedules for the use of laboratories, auditoriums and other group facilities, according to guidelines.

At this time, the governor’s office said, colleges expect dormitories, cafeterias, libraries, bookstores and other amenities to be available to students provided they meet approved guidelines.

If someone in a school tests positive, those who were in close contact with them — that is, within six feet for 15 to 30 minutes without a face covering, according to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health — would be expected to quarantine for 14 days.

Pritzker said local and county health departments will play a major role in deciding a path forward when such a positive test occurs.

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COVID-19 HEALTH STATISTICS: Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike on Tuesday, June 23, said the reopening of schools is being allowed this fall as a result of significant declines in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations since the peak of the pandemic in Illinois.

Those declines, she said, are the result of the vast majority of Illinoisans following basic safety guidelines that include frequent hand-washing, wearing face coverings when in public and practicing social distancing.

The fact that the state reports about 20,000 to 30,000 test results daily helps as well, she said.

There were 715 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease reported in the past day, the IDPH announced Wednesday, June 24. With 29,331 tests reported during the same period, the percentage of positive results remained low, at 2.44 percent. There were an additional 64 coronavirus deaths reported Wednesday. There now 138,540 cases of COVID-19 reported in 101 of Illinois' 102 counties. There have been 6,770 deaths. More than 1.4 million tests have been administered. As of Tuesday, there were 1,614 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Of those, 389 were in ICU beds and 219 were on ventilators.

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BUSINESS RECOVERY GRANTS: The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced this week that it will soon start releasing funds from two grant programs aimed at helping small businesses that have suffered losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest that occurred during recent protests over racial injustice.

The administration is releasing $85 million through the Business Interruption Grant program and the Rebuild Distressed Communities grant program. The money is part of $900 million that Gov. JB Pritzker recently announced will be released in response to economic impacts of the pandemic.

Both programs are aimed at small businesses whose operations were either restricted or completely shut down during the pandemic. They are also targeted at businesses located in “disproportionately impacted areas” — low income communities that have experienced high rates of COVID-19 cases and communities damaged during recent civil unrest.

According to a release from DCEO, the first round of Business Interruption Grants, or BIG, will make $60 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds available for 3,500 businesses such as bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons, health and fitness centers as well as businesses in areas where there have been reports of property damage from civil unrest. The money comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

The grants will range from $10,000 to $20,000 and will be available to businesses that have suffered significant losses due to restricted operations, mandatory closures or property damage. To qualify, those businesses must have been in operation for at least three months before March 2020.

Businesses can begin applying for the grants starting Friday, June 26. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, July 7. Potential applicants can download an application and review the complete criteria for the program on the DCEO website.

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BROADBAND EXPANSION: Gov. JB Pritzker traveled to the Henry County town of Geneseo on Wednesday, June 24, to announce the awarding of $50 million in grants to 28 projects aimed at expanding broadband internet access across the state.

The $50 million is part of the “Connect Illinois” program that was included in the state’s recently-passed “Rebuild Illinois” capital improvements program. The state funds are being matched with more than $65 million in non-state funds for a total investment of over $115 million.

“Connect Illinois is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education, and economic opportunity – because in the 21st century, all those rights are tied to digital connectivity,” Pritzker said during an event at an event at Olson Acres Farms in Geneseo. “The unacceptable consequences of disparities in broadband access were clear before the COVID-19 pandemic – and over the last few months, we’ve seen firsthand what it means when a small business that had to close its doors has no online shop, what it means when an elderly couple has no safe way to get medical advice at a distance, what it means when a child has no ability to access homework assignments online.”

The Connect Illinois program calls for spending $420 million statewide for broadband expansion through 2024, including $20 million for the Illinois Century Network, a high-speed broadband network that serves K-12 and higher education institutions. The first round of grants that were announced Wednesday were awarded to 18 internet service providers, rural cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments.

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ANTI-ABORTION GROUP SUES: An Illinois anti-abortion nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit challenging Gov. JB Pritzker’s social gathering restrictions, arguing it should be excluded from caps on attendees to charity, planning and educational events.

Illinois Right to Life’s lawsuit was filed in the Northern District just over one week after the state Republican Party filed a near-identical argument in the same court. The two groups are represented by the Chicago-based firm Liberty Justice Center.

The cases center around the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause — because Pritzker’s executive order contains a carve-out for churches and has not been enforced against systemic racism protestors, it should not apply to the nonprofit, either, they claim.

According to the court document — written by Daniel Suhr, the attorney also representing the Republican Party — religious institutions are permitted to hold socially-distanced services of more than 10 people. Faith-based associations are “encouraged to consult and follow the recommended practices” published by the Illinois Department of Public Health, but “are not required to obey them.”

Illinois Right to Life already canceled several previously-planned events, rescheduled others and received “minimal” attendance at ones they were able to hold, Suhr wrote. The group argued that due to the nature of its advocacy work, remote alternatives are not helpful.

 

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FINANCIAL AID TO SCHOOLS: Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday, June 23, said the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, provided $510 million in relief directly to school districts to address local needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(State Superintendent of Schools) Dr. (Carmen) Ayala and I are encouraging all districts to use this funding to close the digital divide by providing devices and internet connectivity and are directing the majority of the remaining funding to purchasing laptops, tablets, virtual coaching for new teachers and internet connectivity to advance a vision of equity for our schools and keep our kids on track for success,” the governor said.

Pritzker’s office said the Illinois State Board of Education will use another $54.1 million in CARES act funding to provide funding to schools in six categories: laptops and tablets, internet connectivity, virtual coaching for teachers, professional development, and support for entities that cannot receive direct funds.

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POLICE MISCONDUCT RECORDS: The Illinois Supreme Court ruled last week that the city of Chicago may not destroy records of police misconduct that are more than five years old, despite a contract with city’s police union that requires city officials to do so.

In a 6-1 ruling Wednesday, June 17, the high court said that a state law requiring public records to be maintained supersedes a provision in the city’s contract with the union.

The decision comes at a time when police departments throughout the country, including the Chicago Police Department, have been the target of protests and civil unrest in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

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The provision in the contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 requiring the city to destroy records of investigations and discipline arising from police misconduct has been the subject of litigation and arbitration for nearly thirty years.

The provision dates back to 1981 and has remained largely unchanged since.

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BALLOT ACCESS LAWSUIT: A federal court has denied the Illinois State Board of Elections’ request to suspend enforcement of looser ballot access requirements for third-party candidates in the November election.

The court ruled Sunday, June 21, that the elections board failed to show a petition filing deadline extension – previously granted on May 15 by Rebecca Pallmeyer, chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois – would “irreparably” damage officials’ ability to conduct the Nov. 3 general election, as they alleged in court filings.

The court added that third-party candidates — including those running for office under the banner of the Libertarian and Green parties — would suffer “clear harm” if the board’s request was granted.

At the end of April, Pallmeyer moved the deadline for third-party candidates to file a petition to Aug. 7, decreased the amount of signatures necessary for those petitions, and allowed for those signatures to be collected electronically.

The concessions were made in response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ statutorily mandated elections rules during COVID-19. The filing deadline prescribed by state law would have been on Monday.

The appeals court wrote in its opinion that, “Despite agreeing to each of these terms,” the elections board asked Pallmeyer to reconsider her order a few weeks later. She opted only to move the filing deadline up to July 20.

One month later, on June 9, the board asked a federal appeals court to suspend enforcement of Pallmeyer’s order completely and allow it to “determine necessary election modifications” instead.

“We conclude that none of the evidence submitted by the board shows that the July 20 filing deadline or the reduced signature requirement is likely to impede election officials’ ability to meet the deadline for transmitting ballots to military or overseas voters,” the judges wrote. “In contrast, the (Libertarians and Greens) have provided evidence showing that they would be significantly injured if we” suspended Pallmeyer’s order.

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GOP CANDIDATE SEEKS RELIEF: A central Illinois Republican state senate candidate who does not have enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot asked a federal judge Tuesday, June 23, to also apply loosened election requirements to him.

After the March 17 primary election, Alexander Ruggieri was chosen to fill the Republican Party’s nomination vacancy for the 52nd senate district race. To succeed in qualifying for the general election ballot, where he would challenge incumbent Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), Ruggieri needed to collect 1,000 voter signatures and submit his petition to the Illinois State Board of Elections by June 1.

According to his court filing, he gathered 1,152 signatures. After election officials reviewed the validity of those signatures, though, they determined only 949 were acceptable. That objection “threatens to keep Ruggieri from the general election ballot,” he argued.

Ruggieri, in an effort to qualify for the Nov. 3 election, requested he be looped into an existing court order that applies to third party candidates for the upcoming election cycle. If a judge signs off, the order would, among other things, lower the threshold of signatures Ruggieri must collect by 90 percent, push his filing deadline to July 20 and allow him to submit electronic signatures.

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ILLINOIS UNEMPLOYMENT: Illinois’ unemployment rate fell to 15.2 percent in May, according to the state Department of Employment Security, representing a 2 percent drop from the previous month.

Nonfarm payrolls added 62,200 jobs in May based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job losses for April were also revised downward to 738,600 jobs lost, down from 762,200 in previous estimates.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, continued unemployment claims for the previous week fell to 709,244, down from 741,738 the week ending June 6. Illinois saw 44,639 new initial claims for the week ending June 13, which was roughly level from the week before.

The state’s unemployment rate was 1.9 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for May, which was 13.3 percent, according to IDES.

The staggering numbers are 11.1 percentage points higher than they were a year ago as the state and nation continue to grapple with economic shutdowns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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DATA BREACH LAWSUIT: The firm contracted to launch an unemployment claims portal is solely responsible for a data breach that made available almost 33,000 Illinoisans’ personal information, a St. Clair County resident has alleged in a federal lawsuit.

The state Department of Employment Security announced on May 18 that the web-based system built and maintained by Deloitte Consulting LLP – an international business services company – to process some unemployment claims allowed public access of applicants’ names, Social Security numbers and street addresses.

That online portal serviced Illinoisans applying for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, designed to provide benefits to independent contractors affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic and who are not typically covered by unemployment insurance.

According to the lawsuit filed by St. Clair County resident Briana Julius, at least three other states — Ohio, Colorado and Arkansas — also contracted Deloitte to construct similar portals. Within five days of notice that Illinois’ system was compromised, both Colorado and Ohio made announcements their portals had the same flaw.

Deloitte was “negligent,” Julius alleges, by “actively mishandling” that information. She is suing on behalf of herself and all other Americans who might have been harmed, and is asking a judge to allow a jury trial.

The case is requesting the court find that Deloitte acted in an “unlawful” manner and establish a number of security measures, including safeguards for personal information, tests by “third-party security auditors” and encryption of all sensitive data. Damages could “exceed” $5 million, according to the lawsuit, when considering all Americans who were affected.

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RAISES FOR NURSES: The Illinois Nurses Association announced in a news release Thursday, June 18, that it reached an agreement with the state on a series of COVID-19 related compensation and safety measures — including a 12 percent hazard pay bump — for registered nurses at state mental health facilities, correctional centers, Illinois Youth Centers, veterans administration homes, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and Department of Public Health.

The 12-percent pay increase will apply to an employee’s base salary for days worked between April 16 and June 30 for nurses not covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Nurses who worked from May 1 to May 31 without taking a day off will also be granted an additional personal business day.

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REMOTE LEARNING: Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday, June 18, signed into law Senate Bill 1569, which allows school districts to use remote learning during a declared public health emergency and count them as attendance days. It also allows for five remote learning planning days to be considered attendance days.

The new law takes effect immediately and also waives student assessment requirements if the Illinois State Board of Education receives such a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala said ISBE will be releasing guidance in the coming days to “support a safe transition back to in-person learning this fall.”

“We emphasize in-person learning for all students to the greatest extent possible, while realizing that may not be feasible in all situations,” she said in a news release.

The new law also provides a year-long licensure extension for those with teaching and education support professional licenses set to expire on June 30. 

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ONLINE SPORTS BETTING: The first online sports betting platform is live in Illinois as well, two weeks after Gov. JB Pritzker signed an order temporarily removing the in-person sports wagering registration requirements for casinos, racetracks and sports facilities.

Rivers Casino Des Plaines and Rush Street Interactive launched the online sportsbook BetRivers.com Thursday, June 18, and players can sign up from home. 

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DACA RULING REACTION: State officials in Illinois reacted with cautious relief Thursday, June 18, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle an Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

That program, known as DACA, allows some undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, work and attend school without fear of deportation.

“I’m pleased the Supreme Court has stopped @realDonaldTrump’s lawless attempt at ending the DACA program,” Gov. JB Pritzker posted on Twitter. “This is a victory for the nearly 700,000 young Americans who are invaluable to our nation and our future. Let this reaffirm that the American dream is possible for everyone.”

In 2012, the Obama administration launched DACA, which blocked deportation proceedings against people who were brought to the U.S. as children if they met certain age, residency, education and criminal history criteria as well as those who served honorably in the U.S. military.

People who meet the requirements are given permits to remain in the United States to work or attend school for two years. Those permits can be renewed if they continue to meet the program’s requirements.

According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, or ICIRR, there are an estimated 42,000 people living in Illinois under the protection of that program.

 

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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