CAPITOL RECAP: Gun rights group suing Highland Park

CAPITOL RECAP: Gun rights group suing Highland Park

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – A gun rights group is challenging the city of Highland Park’s ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines like the ones used in a mass shooting there on July 4.

The National Association for Gun Rights, based in Loveland, Colorado, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in federal district court in Chicago at the same time it filed lawsuits challenging a similar ordinance in Naperville as well as state laws in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Hawaii.

The cases were filed in district courts that are part of five different federal appellate circuits. Illinois is part of the 7th Circuit. In a statement Thursday, the group said it is pushing for a national precedent to end all similar bans across the country.

In the lawsuits, the gun rights group rejects the use of the term “assault weapon,” calling it a “charged political term meant to stir the emotions of the public” and instead uses the term “banned firearm.”

The lawsuits allege that the bans violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They cite recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including a 2008 decision overturning Washington D.C.’s ban on handguns, a 2010 decision overturning similar handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, and a decision from June of this year overturning the state of New York’s law requiring people to show “proper cause” for obtaining a firearm license.

On July 4, Robert Crimo III, 21, allegedly took an assault-style weapon and three large-capacity magazines onto a rooftop in downtown Highland Park and fired into an Independence Day parade, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others. He is being held without bond on multiple counts of first-degree murder.

Prior to that shooting, Highland Park had an ordinance dating back to 2013 banning the sale or rental of assault weapons or “assault ammunition feeding devices,” definitions of which are spelled out in the law. The city of Naperville adopted a substantially similar ordinance in August, specifically in response to the mass shooting in Highland Park and an earlier shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Highland Park’s ordinance, however, was previously challenged in federal court, and in 2015 a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the ordinance.

In their opinion, the judges specifically cited the 2010 Supreme Court case from Washington, D.C., in which Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the Second Amendment does not guarantee a right “to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” and noted that the court cautioned against interpreting the decision too broadly.

* * *

PRITZKER ON CHOATE: On Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker was asked about recent reporting from Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises and Propublica about ongoing abuses at the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

At least 26 employees over the past decade have been arrested on felony charges in relation to their work at the facility, and internal investigations have cited dozens of other employees for neglecting, exploiting or humiliating residents, lying to investigators, or failing to report allegations of mistreatment in a timely manner. In some cases, investigations have languished for years as accused employees have continued to receive their full pay while on administrative leave.

“The abuse and neglect that took place at Choate is awful,” Pritzker said when at an unrelated news conference Tuesday.

“And in fact, it’s one of the reasons why we made sure that the State Police did their job in investigating, that we were transparent and providing all the information that was needed for them to do the investigation and to hold people accountable who deserve to be held accountable.

“Obviously we’re very focused on making sure that that facility is doing what it needs to do to care for the people who live there. We’re going to continue to upgrade and provide the services that people need and the personnel that are appropriate for that facility.”

Pritzker was also asked about the response time of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

“I can’t speak to how quickly she acted,” he said of IDHS director Grace Hou. “I will say that speaking up and speaking out when you see something that’s wrong is exactly the right thing to do. Making sure that there’s a responsive people on the other end and that, again, we have transparency, an investigation that takes place. That’s the right thing to do. And that’s what we’re going to make sure happens.”

He said the state wasn’t considering closing the facility at this time, but he did not take the option off the table.

“But I have to tell you, obviously deeply concerning what people who work there did,” he said. “And the question is, can we prevent that in the future? And if not, then obviously that’s not a facility that should remain open. But the state has an ob ligation to the people that it serves at that facility right now.”

* * *

UNION GROWTH: As voters in Illinois prepare to decide on a state constitutional amendment that would guarantee workers the right to organize, a new study shows union membership in the state grew last year for the first time in four years.

The analysis by the pro-union Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign showed that union membership statewide grew a little more than 2 percent, to 752,063, over the previous year. That was still below the 2017 level of 828,066.

And while it may be too early to tell whether that’s a temporary blip or the beginning of a longer-term trend, UIUC’s Robert Bruno, a coauthor of the report, said there are other signs of a rebound in the labor movement.

In addition to their own findings, Bruno and IEPI’s Frank Manzo pointed to a Gallup survey released Aug. 30 that showed 71 percent of Americans approve of labor unions. That’s up from 64 percent before the pandemic and is the highest approval rate Gallup had recorded since 1965.

“And that is a 23-percentage point increase since 2009,” Manzo said. “I mean, the trend line is up, up, up since 2009.”

In addition, they pointed to a 60 percent success rate for union organizing petitions in Illinois last year, the highest in more than a decade, with workers under age 35 and female workers showing the largest growth in unionization rates.

Overall, 13.9 percent of Illinois workers were represented by a union, down from 14.2 percent the previous year and 15 percent in 2017. Nationally, however, only 10.3 percent of U.S. workers were union members in 2021, down from 10.7 percent in 2017.

State and local government workers are 49.9 percent unionized compared to 8.6 percent of private sector workers.

But the unionization rate among public sector workers in Illinois has been declining, due in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. In that Illinois case, the court said the state could not require public sector employees to pay what are known as “agency fees” to their unions.

The 49.9 percent of public sector workers belonging to a union represented a 2.2-percentage point decrease from pre-Janus levels.

But unionization rates have been growing in the private sector, which was not affected by the Janus ruling, as more and more workers have begun to organize in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNION AMENDMENT: Previously in Illinois, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner sought to weaken labor unions by unsuccessfully working to ban some political contributions by public employee unions and allow local governments to establish “right-to-work zones.”

In 2019, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation specifically prohibiting local governments from enacting such laws. And last year, state lawmakers went even further by proposing a constitutional amendment to protect workers’ rights to organize.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which will be on ballots in the Nov. 8 general election, would add a new section to the state constitution’s bill of rights. The first sentence would establish a “fundamental right” of employees “to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”

The second sentence would prohibit the General Assembly or any local government from interfering with that right or from enacting right-to-work laws.

It would provide that, “No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety, including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.”

The proposal has sparked opposition from the Liberty Justice Center and the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which have tried – unsuccessfully, so far – to have it removed from the ballot. They argue in part that the amendment would be preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, at least regarding private-sector unions, and would therefore be unconstitutional under federal law.

In May, a Sangamon County judge rejected that argument, and in August the 4th District Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The plaintiffs are now trying to get their case before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Manzo, meanwhile, argued that even if federal law does preempt state action, a state constitutional amendment could still serve as a backstop in the event federal protections are ever taken away.

* * *

EV TAX BREAK: The state on Tuesday, Sept. 6, announced the award of the first electric vehicle manufacturing-targeted tax incentives made possible by a law signed by Gov. JB Pritzker last year.

The incentives come from the Reimagining Electric Vehicles Act, which passed nearly unanimously and became law in November, and will provide an estimated $2.2 million in value to T/CCI Manufacturing in Decatur.

The REV Act passed two months after the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act which incentivizes EV adoption, driving Pritzker’s vision to make Illinois “the best place in North America to drive and manufacture an electric vehicle.”

T/CCI’s Decatur plant currently manufactures compressors for gasoline-powered cars. The company plans to retool the Decatur facility to produce compressors for EVs with an estimated $20 million investment. Currently, T/CCI makes EV compressors, a part which cools batteries and powers car air conditioning systems, in China and India.

Pritzker and local lawmakers said the manufacturing of EV parts domestically is necessary to work around supply chain issues.

T/CCI’s transition will create 50 new jobs, while 103 existing jobs are expected to be retained.

The REV Act’s incentives are targeted to the manufacturers of EVs and their parts, such as compressors. The companies receiving the breaks can receive a state income tax credit of 75 percent or 100 percent of payroll taxes withheld from each new employee and 25 percent or 50 percent for current employees. The law also provides a 10 percent credit for training expenses.

The governor’s office tied the Tuesday announcement to a previously announced plan to provide $15.3 million in state infrastructure funding to Richland Community College and $6 million to the city of Decatur to create an “EV cluster” that includes a training, research and innovation facility in partnership with T/CCI.

The infrastructure money would go toward a climatic simulation center on T/CCI’s Decatur campus which will allow the testing of new EV-related technologies in extreme environments.

Richland and T/CCI are also working in partnership with the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering and Northern Illinois University on a training academy that will focus on EV advanced engineering, software technology and accredited apprenticeship programs.

A public-private partnership model, the climatic center will be open to businesses and researchers looking to expedite adoption of new EV technologies, according to the governor’s office.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is 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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