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CAPITOL RECAP: Energy bill heads to Senate, Pritzker says he will sign it

CAPITOL RECAP: Energy bill heads to Senate, Pritzker says he will sign it

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House approved an energy regulation and decarbonization bill Thursday, which aims to bring Illinois’ energy generation sector to 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 and 50 percent renewable by 2040.

It passed the House 83-33 shortly before 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Gov. JB Pritzker quickly issued a news release saying he would sign it. The bill will still need approval from the Senate, which planned to caucus Friday to discuss the measure, Senate Bill 2408, before a Monday return.

Environmental groups extolled the decarbonization language, which aims to take coal, gas and other carbon-emitting power plants off the grid between 2030 and 2045, depending on the energy source and ownership structure.

Union groups praised the bill’s language requiring that all major renewable construction projects must have project labor agreements in place to hire union labor, while non-residential projects, with few exceptions, would be required to pay a prevailing wage.

Republicans, meanwhile, warned of losses of downstate jobs, substantial consumer bill increases and potential grid reliability issues as fossil fuel plants are forced offline, although it passed on a bipartisan roll call.

The bill provides more than $600 million over five years to three nuclear plants owned by Exelon Corporation. A deadline for closing one of the plants was set for Monday, Sept. 13, when the Senate was set to act.

All told, negotiators believe the new bill is expected to raise residential electric bills by about 3-4 percent, commercial bills by about 5-6 percent, and industrial bills by about 7-8 percent, although the rollout for the various programs would be staggered over time and increases would vary by year.

The ratepayer money will fund equity programs for the clean energy workforce and new investment in renewable energy, among other initiatives. Included in the rate hike is $180 million in annual funding for the newly-created Energy Transition Assistance Fund, which funds various workforce initiatives.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, noted in a news conference after the bill’s passage that it requires the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Commerce Commission and Illinois Power Agency to conduct a study at five-year intervals “to determine if there is grid reliability.”

If there are not enough renewables and nuclear power available to keep the grid running, that means coal or gas plants could be kept online to meet peak demand.

Lawmakers also noted the bill tightens utility ethics laws by ending formulaic rate increases, strengthening economic disclosure requirements to include spouses employed by utilities, and creating Public Utility Ethics and Compliance Monitor to ensure utilities comply with existing and new laws.

The bill also sets a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030, aiming to do so through incentives, such as offering rebates on the installation of charging infrastructure in certain communities, provided prevailing wage is paid on the construction labor.

* * *

ETHICS BILL PASSES: The Illinois House on Thursday, Sept. 9, voted to accept changes to an ethics bill that Gov. JB Pritzker had requested, paving the way for it to become law once the governor signs it

Thursday’s vote came a little more than a week after an earlier attempt fell short in the House. That happened during a late-night session Tuesday, Aug. 31, after many Democrats had left the Capitol following a one-day special session that was called mainly to reconsider a legislative redistricting plan.

But Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, renewed her motion Thursday at the start of another one-day session that was called mainly to consider a comprehensive energy package. This time, with nearly all House members present, the measure passed, 74-41, largely along party lines. Reps. Amy Elik, R-Alton, and Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, were the only Republicans to vote yes.

Senate Bill 539 originally cleared both chambers during the spring session by overwhelming margins, 56-0 in the Senate and 113-5 in the House, even though Republicans at the time complained on the floor that it had been watered down. But it contained enough reforms, such as increased financial disclosure requirements and limits on the ability of elected officials to lobby other units of government, so that many lawmakers said they believed it was the best they could get at the time.

But a few weeks after it passed, on July 14, the General Assembly’s top ethics watchdog, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, submitted her intent to resign by Dec. 15, saying the bill would actually weaken her office by limiting the types of investigations she could conduct.

In response, many Republicans called on Pritzker to issue an “amendatory veto” by asking lawmakers to strike the language that prompted Pope’s resignation. Instead, though, Pritzker issued a different amendatory veto, asking lawmakers to delete language related to the executive inspector general.

When that veto came back to the General Assembly Aug. 31, the Senate accepted Pritzker’s request unanimously, 58-0. But in the House, Republicans pulled their support while several Democrats had already left the building, leaving the amended bill with only 59 votes, far short of the 71 votes needed to pass.

In floor debate Thursday, Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, urged rejecting the governor’s amendment and returning to negotiations over a stronger ethics bill.

“There’s a lot of talk from your (Democratic) side of the aisle about how this is just a start and we need to do more and, you know, yada, yada, yada, everything else,” he said to Burke on the House floor. “I don’t think anybody has ever really answered, what’s keeping us from doing more right now?”

* * *

REDISTRICTING SUIT: Lawyers for a Latino advocacy group told a panel of federal judges Wednesday, Sept. 1, that the new legislative district maps passed by the Illinois General Assembly the night before still dilute the vote of Hispanic citizens in the state, and they intend to proceed with a lawsuit in hopes of having them overturned.

MALDEF is representing several Latino voters, mainly in the Chicago area, who filed a lawsuit in July challenging the maps that lawmakers initially passed during the spring. A similar but separate lawsuit also was filed by Republican legislative leaders.

A three-judge federal panel in Chicago presiding over both cases held a status hearing Wednesday to determine how the case should proceed in light of the General Assembly’s actions.

When official census numbers were finally released in August, they showed the overall population of Illinois had declined by 7,893, to a little more than 12.8 million. But MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera noted that the Latino population grew by nearly 310,000.

Despite that, he said, in the new maps approved by lawmakers Tuesday night, which are now awaiting Pritzker’s approval, the number of House districts in which Latino voters make up a majority of the voting-age population would shrink to four, instead of the current five. The number of majority-Latino Senate districts would shrink to two, instead of the current three.

Herrera said that could constitute a violation Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Attorneys for both sets of plaintiffs indicated that they intend to file amended complaints to include challenges to the latest set of maps.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr., who presides over the three-judge panel, suggested that the entire issue of the original maps could become moot if Pritzker approves the new set of maps before the court has a chance to act on the original redistricting plan. He also indicated that any question of invoking the state constitution to form a bipartisan commission would be a matter for the Illinois Supreme Court to decide, not the federal district court.

A trial in the case had tentatively been set for Sept. 27-29 but that is now certain to change because lawyers for both sets of plaintiffs said they will need at least a month to file their amended complaints.

The judges did not immediately set a date for the next hearing.

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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