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CAPITOL RECAP: New congressional map draft unveiled

CAPITOL RECAP: New congressional map draft unveiled

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – Democratic leaders in the General Assembly released a second draft of proposed congressional district maps over the weekend as they prepare to head into the final three days of their fall veto session.

Like the first set of maps that were released Oct. 15, the latest draft would create a number of oddly-shaped districts that are meant to favor Democratic candidates going into the 2022 midterm elections.

They would also create a second “coalition” district in the Chicago area, defined in the Illinois Voting Rights Act as “a district where more than one group of racial minorities or language minorities may form a coalition to elect the candidate of the coalition’s choice.”

The Illinois congressional delegation is currently divided between 13 Democrats and five Republicans, but the state is losing one of its districts next year due to its loss of population since the 2010 census.

An analysis by the political website FiveThirtyEight estimates the maps would create 13 Democratic-leaning districts, three Republican-leaning districts and one highly competitive district, the 17th District, currently represented by Democrat Cheri Bustos, of Moline, who has announced she will not seek reelection next year.

The loss of two Republican seats in Illinois could prove important next year when Democrats are expected to lose seats and possibly their slim majority in the U.S. House.

The proposed map would accomplish that, in part, by pitting a number of incumbent Republicans against each other.

Republican Reps. Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, and Mary Miller, of Oakland, would be placed in a single southern Illinois District.

The map would also put Republican Reps. Darin LaHood, of Peoria, and Adam Kinzinger, of Channahon, into a reshaped 16th District that would stretch from the Bloomington-Normal area all the way to the Wisconsin border, circling around the city of Rockford.

Meanwhile, Republican Rodney Davis, of Taylorville, would be placed in a reshaped 15th District that includes his hometown, snakes east around the city of Champaign, then curves back west to take in much of west-central Illinois, from an area just north of St. Louis to an area just south of the Quad Cities.

The plan would also create a new 13th District that would stretch from Belleville and East St. Louis about 170 miles along a narrow stretch that extends to Springfield, Decatur and Champaign. That district currently has no incumbent, but FiveThirtyEight estimates it would lean Democratic by about 7 percentage points.

* * *

HEALTH CARE RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE: An amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that allows an employer to fire a worker for noncompliance with COVID-19 vaccine or test requirements surfaced Monday ahead of the final three scheduled days of legislative action this year.

That bill language was introduced in the General Assembly Monday as Gov. JB Pritzker announced a new partial vaccine agreement with the state’s largest public employee union and held a news conference to encourage vaccination in children aged 5-11, provided federal regulators recommend the vaccine in that age group next week.

House Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 1169, carried by Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, creates a section of the Health Care Right of Conscience Act pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current HCRC Act defines conscience as “a sincerely held set of moral convictions arising from belief in and relation to God.” On those lines, certain care, including testing, can be refused without repercussions from an employer.

Some have used those lines to not only refuse vaccine mandates, but also the testing requirements that are in place for people covered under the mandates if they choose not to receive the vaccine.

The new amendment provides that it is not a violation of the Act “for any person or public official, or for any public or private association, agency, corporation, entity, institution, or employer, to take any measures or impose any requirements … intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19.”

Per the bill, employers can terminate employment or exclude individuals from a school, place of employment or public or private premises in response to noncompliance.

Gabel and Pritzker’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment Monday.

But when asked about potential changes to the act last week, Pritzker spokesperson Emily Bittner said, “The Healthcare Right of Conscience Act was never intended to allow people to avoid public health guidance and jeopardize workplace safety during a global pandemic. The administration supports efforts to clarify the law, so it cannot be misinterpreted by fringe elements.”

* * *

VETO SESSION WEEK 1: The legislative action was light during the General Assembly’s first week of fall session, and lawmakers in both chambers left town a day early after leadership canceled the Thursday, Oct. 21, session.

That means bigger items, such as a vote on congressional maps and potential changes to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act and a repeal of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, will have to wait until next week, Oct. 26-28, for substantive action.

Republicans used the light legislative days to make a case against one of the main Democratic agenda items and to push for some of their own – including public safety reforms and checks on the governor’s power – in a series of news conferences.

Parental Notice of Abortion: On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the four women in the Senate Republican Caucus made clear their opposition to repealing the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which requires that a physician give 48 hours notice to a parent or guardian of a person under the age of 18 who intends to get an abortion.

The law does not require the guardian to give consent, and doesn’t apply if an adult family member waives the notice in writing. Additionally, there are exceptions for minors who are victims of physical or sexual abuse or neglect by an adult family member, if the minor is married or emancipated, or if the provider determines there is a medical emergency. A judge can also waive the requirement.

Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, characterized the issue as one of parents’ rights that is independent of “the typical pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.” Parents should have a right to know when their child is going to undergo a major medical procedure such as an abortion, the GOP senators argued.

Sen. Sally Turner, R-Beason, said a repeal would “make it easier for sexual predators and sex traffickers to abuse our children.”

The ACLU of Illinois countered that claim Wednesday in a news release, circulating a letter cosigned by several groups that aid sexual assault victims, such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

They said the Republican claims “rely on an erroneous belief that parents and/or social networks are always safe and healthy individuals in a young person’s life and that, if notified, they would assist in an intervention to help the young person.”

“However, what we know is that victims are often lured into a trafficking or exploitative situation because they lack parental and/or familial support,” they wrote in the letter. “Traffickers often come along to fill such a void in the young person’s life. In fact, traffickers can be and often are the young person’s parents or family members.”

Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, however, argued that the existing exceptions in the law are protection enough for minors who have been abused.

Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, who carries the repeal bill in the House, told Capitol News Illinois she still hopes to call it for a vote next week, although she did not indicate whether she had enough votes lined up in support of the repeal.

Public safety push: There’s been no indication that the majority party Democrats will take up the other two matters pushed by Republicans this week – checks on executive authority and public safety reforms.

Republicans from both chambers gathered outside of the Illinois Police Officers Memorial on the Capitol Grounds Wednesday to push for a reform package spearheaded by former prosecutor and current state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

That package includes a bill that would appropriate $100 million to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to fund grants to local departments for gang violence, carjacking and motor vehicle theft prevention, as well as officer staffing.

Another bill would eliminate good time sentence reductions for someone who brought a weapon to a penal institution or attacked a law officer. Another would require a prosecutor to provide a written explanation if a weapons offense is plea bargained to a lesser sentence.

Rose also touted a “10 and life” provision, requiring a minimum 10-year sentence for aggravated discharge of a firearm, use of a stolen or illegally acquired firearm in an offense, unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon, armed habitual criminal offenses or aggravated hijacking or carjacking. A second such offense would come with a life sentence.

“We’re not talking about the so called low-level nonviolent offender,” Rose said. “We’re talking about violent offenders who are walking our streets, gun traffickers, carjackers. …The brunt of our effort is to take the violent criminals, the gun traffickers the carjackers, the shooters, off the streets.”

Governor authority: House Republicans held their own news conference Wednesday to push for the passage of House Bill 843, which would limit the governor’s ability to issue consecutive disaster proclamations.

Pritzker has issued successive proclamations due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. In the future, the bill would limit the governor to one 30-day declaration, and if it is extended it would need written approval from three legislative leaders or an affirmative resolution from the General Assembly.

Democrats have shown no indication that they were willing to provide such a check on the governor’s disaster authority, instead allowing him to continue under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act without intervention.

“Tacit approval is not appropriate in this situation,” Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, who sponsors HB843, said at the news conference. “That does not allow for public hearing and debate that the people of the state get to see and hear and know that their viewpoints are being considered and heard by the people making decisions. It’s still just allowing one person to rule and not allowing the people to have their voice heard.”

* * *

GUN TAX REJECTED: The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Oct. 21, that a Cook County tax on gun purchases is unconstitutional, but it left the door open for a more tailored tax that specifically goes toward mitigating gun violence and its effects.

The Cook County gun tax, which took effect in April 2013, imposed a $25 fee for retail gun purchases in the county, as well as a 5 cent fee per cartridge of centerfire ammunition and 1 cent per cartridge fee for rimfire ammunition.

The taxes were challenged by the trade group Guns Save Life Inc. in a lawsuit against the county.

The Supreme Court’s Thursday opinion, written by Justice Mary Jane Theis, stated that, “While the taxes do not directly burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to use a firearm for self-defense, they do directly burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to acquire a firearm and the necessary ammunition for self-defense.”

In the 14-page, 6-0 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed an appellate court ruling that would have allowed the taxes to stay in place. Chief Justice Anne Burke did not take part in the decision.

While the court rejected the tax, it did specifically note that the county’s failure to earmark the revenue from the tax for gun violence prevention programs played a major role in the decision.

“Under the plain language of the ordinances, the revenue generated from the firearm tax is not directed to any fund or program specifically related to curbing the cost of gun violence,” the court wrote. “Additionally, nothing in the ordinance indicates that the proceeds generated from the ammunition tax must be specifically directed to initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence. Thus, we hold the tax ordinances are unconstitutional under the uniformity clause.”

Justice Michael Burke issued a four-page special concurrence disagreeing with the majority’s analysis that the county’s spending plans affected whether the tax was permissible under Article 1, Section 22 of the state constitution, which reads: “Subject only to the police power, the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

“The only problem with the majority’s approach — and the guidance it offers the county — is that such counsel, if followed, would still violate the provision of the Illinois Constitution noted above that plainly states that the right of the individual to keep and bear arms is subject only to the police power, not the power to tax,” he wrote.

The county intends to meet with its legal counsel and “determine any next steps that may be warranted,” it said in a statement.

* * *

CHILD VACCINATION: The governor’s Monday, Oct. 25, news conference focused on the state’s effort to prepare for the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is scheduled to meet Nov. 2 and 3 to consider approval.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the department has begun planning events for the following week. There are 1.1 million Illinoisans in the age 5-11 range that will become eligible for vaccination should the CDC approve it.

The governor’s office said more than 2,200 providers statewide are already enrolled to provide the vaccine to children, and the state expects to receive 306,000 doses, with another 73,000 going to the city of Chicago and 100,000 doses to pharmacies.

The outreach effort will also go directly to schools, Pritzker said.

“We will be reaching out to approximately 750 public school districts that teach elementary aged students to offer them the opportunity to host parent-approved clinics right on school grounds,” he said. “We will have a team ready to go at the request of any district.”

Parents hoping to get their children vaccinated by the holiday season should call their pediatricians as soon as possible, the governor said.

As of Monday, about 63.5 percent of the state’s population over 12 years of age was vaccinated.

For more on how to obtain a vaccine, visit vaccines.gov.

* * *

DAY CARE VACCINES: Gov. JB Pritzker announced an executive order Friday, Oct. 22, that will add day care personnel to the list of professions that must either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.

The governor’s office said it expects the order to affect 55,000 individuals in the state, although many of them may have already received a vaccine.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive any of the approved vaccines in the U.S., although Pfizer has asked federal regulators to approve its vaccines for children aged 5 to 11. Children 12 years of age and older are currently eligible for that vaccine.

Day care professionals will be required to receive their first dose by Dec. 3, and their second by Jan. 3. Those not fully vaccinated by Dec. 3 will have to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing until they are fully vaccinated, according to the governor’s office.

There are 2,872 day care centers in Illinois that are licensed through the Department of Children and Family Services, the governor’s office said in a news release.

Since August, the governor’s office has mandated the same vaccine or testing requirements for health care professionals, teachers and staff at Pre-K-12 schools, higher education personnel and students, and a number of state workers.

* * *

STATE EMPLOYEE VACCINES: Gov. JB Pritzker has mandated that certain groups of state workers, K-12 school employees, higher education students and personnel, health care workers and others either receive the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Last week, he added day care personnel to the list.

On Monday, Oct. 25, Pritzker announced nearly 10,000 state employees are now covered under union agreements mandating vaccination.

The state and part of its largest public employee union – American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, or AFSCME – announced the latest agreement, which covers about 7,800 employees of congregate facilities at the Department of Human Services and Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

“Our most vulnerable residents, such as veterans who can’t live on their own and adults living with developmental disabilities, have no choice but to live among workers at these facilities,” Pritzker said at a news conference Monday. “… They deserve the safest possible homes that we can provide, and that includes the protection of a vaccinated community.”

They join the Teamsters, VR-704 union, the Illinois Nurses Association, the Illinois Federation of Public Employees and Illinois Trade Unions as those covered in agreements with the state. All must be fully vaccinated as of Nov. 30 with the first dose received by Tuesday.

The latest agreement does not cover all of AFSCME’s workers that are otherwise covered under the mandates, as negotiations between the state and the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice have reached an impasse. The state and the union will submit to arbitration regarding the 10,300 security employees in those agencies.

For an additional 1,900 non-security employees at those two departments, the governor’s office said the state plans to impose the same requirements as the rest of the unions.

Per those agreements, employees will receive an additional personal day, and may be compensated at their regular pay for the time taken to receive the vaccine if none is available off work hours. Vaccinated employees may also receive paid time off if they contract COVID-19.

The governor’s vaccine mandates were first issued in late August amid a surge of the COVID-19 delta variant that has proven about twice as transmissible as the first wave of the virus.

On Aug. 26, when the governor issued the order, the rolling case positivity rate for COVID-19 tests was 5.4 percent.

Virus transmission rates have ticked downward since that time, and the case positivity rate sat at 1.9 percent as of Monday. That number is still well above the mid-June lows of 0.6 percent.

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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