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CAPITOL RECAP: Democrats approve new legislative maps on partisan lines

CAPITOL RECAP: Democrats approve new legislative maps on partisan lines

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Democrats in the General Assembly pushed through a new set of legislative maps during a one-day special session Tuesday, Aug. 31, although the process they used sparked the ire of Republicans and voting rights advocates alike.

If accepted by Gov. JB Pritzker, as they are expected to be, the new maps would replace those adopted in May, which were passed without the benefit of official 2020 U.S. Census data. But they will also have to pass muster with a federal court, where two lawsuits are pending, and possibly the Illinois Supreme Court.

The plan adopted Tuesday night was actually the third draft of a redistricting plan that had been introduced in the span of less than 48 hours. The first was formally released Monday afternoon and was the subject of a contentious public hearing that night. A second, amended version was introduced Tuesday morning, barely one hour before the start of a hearing in the House Redistricting Committee, and that plan was changed slightly again just before the House came into session to debate the package.

Advocates testified virtually during a hearing that was originally scheduled for 10 a.m., but which had to be postponed because the bill containing the new proposal, House Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 927, wasn’t released until just minutes before that time. Many requested the process be slowed down.

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, who chaired the House committee, defended the process during debate on the House floor.

Republicans, however, complained that the web portal Democrats had set up to allow people to submit their own proposals actually didn’t work and many individuals were unable to use it. They also complained that the final maps brought to the floor did not reflect the concerns that many communities had raised, but instead were drawn to protect the political interests of the Democratic majorities.

The bulk of the 1,269-page bill is made up of lists of census block numbers, townships, wards and precincts that define each proposed House and Senate district. It was accompanied by a separate resolution explaining how the districts were drawn.

Ultimately, though, the new redistricting plan passed both chambers strictly along party lines – 73-43 in the House; 40-17 in the Senate.

* * *

ETHICS BILL FAILS: The Illinois House failed to muster the votes Tuesday to accept Gov. JB Pritzker’s amendatory veto to an ethics bill that passed nearly unanimously earlier this year.

Pritzker issued the amendatory veto of Senate Bill 539 Friday, saying he supports the legislation but would like to see a minor change in language dealing with the office of executive inspector general.

The Senate approved that technical change unanimously, but the trouble for the governor came in the House as Republicans removed their support for the bill and not enough Democrats remained in the chamber just before 10 p.m. Tuesday to reach the three-fifths vote needed for it to pass.

The failed vote does not kill the measure, however, as lawmakers can bring it up for another vote when more are in attendance, as long as the vote comes within a 15-day window from Tuesday.

Among other things, the bill would have prohibited legislators and constitutional officers from engaging in “compensated lobbying” of a municipality, county or township. The same would have applied to elected and appointed executive or legislative officials of county, municipal or township governments.

It also would have given the legislative inspector general independent authority to launch investigations, but only after a formal complaint is filed. It would have restricted those investigations to matters that arise out of government service or employment, not to outside employment.

Soon after it passed nearly unanimously in June, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced that she would resign, effective Dec. 15, calling the job a “paper tiger”.” She specifically alleged the provision limiting her ability to investigate non-governmental ethics violations, and the fact that a complaint would be required for an investigation, tied her hands.

Following that announcement, some legislative Republicans called on Pritzker to use his amendatory veto power to send the bill back for revisions, “striking the provisions that would disempower the legislative inspector general.”

On Tuesday during floor debate, Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, evoked Pope’s resignation and noted Pritzker didn’t take any proposed GOP changes into account.

* * *

VETO OVERRIDEN: Gov. JB Pritzker was dealt another blow when lawmakers overrode his veto of a bill that removes non-emergency ambulance services from Medicaid managed care and places it back in a fee-for-service structure.

The bill passed each chamber unanimously earlier this year and the veto was overridden with only one vote against in the House. The Senate approved the override unanimously Tuesday night.

The measure would transfer the review of claims from managed care organizations, or MCOs, which are private insurance companies that oversee most Medicaid services in the state. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which opposed the bill, would be the entity handling those claims under the bill. They already do so for emergency ambulance services, a change made in April.

The Illinois State Ambulance Association said the measure, House Bill 684, is needed to counter arbitrary denials of claims by private insurers. The governor’s office and HFS, however, expressed “serious concerns for patient safety and cost.”

In his veto message, Pritzker said the bill “has the potential to disrupt care and reduce the quality of provided medical transportation services to some of the most vulnerable Illinoisans.”

But ambulance services said payment delays from MCOs threatened staffing, and the change would simply provide a way to “get paid for the services provided.”

Lawmakers sided with the ambulance providers over the governor, HFS and the MCOs.

* * *

MATERNAL HEALTH: Lawmakers accepted an amendatory veto that aims to fix a technical issue on a bill Gov. JB Pritzker supported. The measure, Senate Bill 967, will expand the current Illinois Medicaid plan “so that individuals who don’t qualify for full benefit Medicaid still have coverage for preventive contraceptive care and associated screenings related to reproductive well-being,” according to the governor’s office.

The bill passed each chamber unanimously Tuesday after the amendatory veto changed only an effective date.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, the bill’s Senate sponsor, noted in a news release when the bill passed that it also “would provide support for pregnant and new mothers for pregnancy-related condition, including mental health and substance use disorders by requiring private insurance plans to cover postpartum complications up to one year after delivery among other requirements.”

* * *

MASK MANDATE: The statewide mask mandate indoors is back, and educators and health care professionals will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday, Aug. 26, amid an ongoing surge in the pandemic that first led to stay-at-home orders and other mitigations in March 2020.

Beginning Monday, Aug. 30, people will be required to wear masks indoors, Pritzker announced.

The vaccine requirement, which goes into effect Sept. 5, will apply to “all P-12 teachers and staff, all higher education personnel, all higher education students, and health care workers in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities and physician’s offices,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago.

“Effective Sept. 5, individuals working in these settings who are unable or unwilling to receive their first dose of vaccine will be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, and IDPH and (the Illinois State Board of Education) may require more frequent testing in certain situations, like in an outbreak,” he said.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state is seeing 220 hospital admissions per day, a number on par with a surge in May. Pritzker said 98 percent of cases, 96 percent of hospitalizations and 95 percent of deaths since January have been among unvaccinated people.

While vaccines are the best defense, Ezike said, “wearing a mask continues to be one of the simplest, cheapest ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Intensive care bed availability in southern Illinois is at 3 percent, Pritzker said.

“That’s because the regions with the lowest vaccination rates are the regions where there are fewer hospitals, and lower hospital capacity,” Pritzker said. “And those hospitals are sometimes the least well equipped to handle cases as they become more acute.”

He added, “We are continuing to rely on experts at the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (Illinois Department of Public Health), but you don’t need to be an epidemiologist to understand what’s going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

The current vaccination rates – nearly 53 percent of the state’s population is vaccinated – “are not enough to blunt the ferocity of the delta variant,” which has led to hospitals “again fighting the battle that we had hoped would be behind us by now.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to call on the governor to further involve the General Assembly in his COVID-19 response.

* * *

IDES OFFICES REOPEN: As of Thursday, Aug. 26, select Illinois Department of Employment Security offices have opened for appointment-only in-person services for the first time since the pandemic led to a statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020, which has since expired.

Individuals can call the IDES scheduling hotline at 217-558-0401 to make an appointment at one of four locations during the first phase of reopening in Rockford, Harvey, Champaign or Mt. Vernon.

Twenty-minute appointments will be available Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Visitors will be afforded a 10-minute grace period, according to IDES.

The IDES website is also still open for claims, and callbacks with an expert can be scheduled by calling 800-244-5631. More offices will open in a “phased” approach in the coming days and weeks, according to IDES.

* * *

UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE: The state saw 22,258 first-time unemployment claims during the week ending Aug. 21, an increase of 21 percent from the week prior. The number of weeks claimed for the most recent period was 186,107, a decrease of 9 percent from the week prior.

The number of nonfarm jobs increased in 13 of 14 metropolitan regions for the month of July compared to one year ago, according to preliminary data from IDES and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jobs in the Rockford area remained flat from one year ago, while the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights area added 148,800 nonfarm jobs. The Lake County area added 16,400 jobs, while other regions ranged from 800 added jobs in the Bloomington area to 8,100 added jobs in the Elgin area.

For July, Illinois’ unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, trailing the U.S. as a whole, which was at 5.4 percent.

Added federal benefits, meanwhile, are set to expire on Sept. 4.

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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