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CAPITOL RECAP: No energy deal yet, but lawmakers say one could come 'this summer'

CAPITOL RECAP: No energy deal yet, but lawmakers say one could come ‘this summer’

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate adjourned Tuesday without calling a comprehensive energy regulatory reform package for a vote.

After adjournment, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, made a statement similar to one he made June 1 after the Senate failed to call an energy bill for a vote ahead of the regular session adjournment.

“There are still some points of contention between two critical constituencies – between labor and the environmental activists – I believe they’re going to be continuing to meet as early as this evening to try to work out those differences and the Senate stands ready, willing and able to return as soon as an agreement is reached,” he said Tuesday.

Hours earlier, in an Energy and Public Utilities Committee hearing, Senator Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said the bill had stalled amid disagreements over decarbonization measures aimed at taking coal and gas plants offline.

While the discussion of caps on coal plants stalled the bill on May 31, Harmon said the sticking point is now the decarbonization of gas plants. All sides agree that gas will be taken offline by 2045, he said, but the questions pertain to what the transition period would look like.

With a phased carbon cap proposed by the governor, closure could come far sooner than 2045, Harmon said, preventing gas plants from having the ability to transition to new sequestration technology or potentially hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas.

The bill contains goals of putting the state on a path to 40 percent renewable energy by 2030 through an increased fee on ratepayer bills; encouraging adoption of electric vehicles through rebates and incentives; and getting the state to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050. It also strengthens several ethics measures for public utilities.

It also provides several ratepayer subsidies for the development of renewable energy and preserving the profitability of nuclear energy.

That includes, but is not limited to, $694 million in subsidies to three nuclear plants owned by energy giant Exelon at a cost of about 80 cents on the average monthly ratepayer bill; an added $1.22 to an average bill to fund new renewable development; 86 cents for an expanded low-income weatherization program; about 18 cents per month to incentivize the transition of closed or closing coal plants to solar facilities; and another 9 cents per month for the conversion of coal sites to battery storage.

* * *

TWO-DAY SESSION ENDS: Illinois lawmakers finished a two-day special session Thursday by passing some important legislation but without reaching agreement on the one issue they had hoped to resolve – an energy bill that would phase out all carbon emissions from power plants over the next 30 years.

Topping their list of accomplishments was the final, slightly amended passage of a $42.3 billion budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, something they thought they had completed when they first adjourned June 1, but which Gov. JB Pritzker was forced to send back for a minor change to correct drafting errors regarding the effective date of various provisions.

The budget provides essentially flat funding for most state government operations, with the exception of K-12 education, which will see the $350 million increase called for in the evidence-based funding formula, and some human services such as Medicaid.

The bill also calls for using about $1 billion in federal funds from the recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act to get an early start on infrastructure projects that are part of the Rebuild Illinois capital improvements program of 2019, something Pritzker said would create new jobs throughout the state and help accelerate the state’s economic recovery.

Republicans, however, harshly criticized that spending, arguing that the projects were hand-picked solely by Democratic lawmakers.

They also criticized the budget for not addressing the large deficit in the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which some have estimated may be as large as $5 billion.

Democrats, however, countered that the trust fund deficit can be addressed at a later time, possibly with additional federal relief.

In addition to fixing the budget bill, lawmakers also passed legislation this week to ensure that people who, through no fault of their own, received more unemployment benefits than they were entitled to will not be required to pay back those overpayments.

They also passed legislation aimed at clearing up a backlog of applications for Firearm Owner’s Identification cards as well as legislation providing for a first-ever elected Chicago school board, an issue that had divided legislative Democrats and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

* * *

VACCINE LOTTERY: Any vaccinated Illinoisan will be automatically entered into a lottery for $10 million in prizes without having to take any extra steps to enter.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced the “all in for the win” vaccine lottery at an event in Chicago, noting it would award $7 million in cash prizes for adults 18 years of age and older, as well as $3 million in scholarship awards for Illinoisans ages 12 to 17.

The first drawing will be conducted by the Illinois Lottery on July 8 and drawings will continue into August. Prizes will include cash payments from $100,000 to $1 million. Scholarships would be in the form of Bright Start 529 savings plans worth $150,000 each.

The money is allocated from federal American Rescue Plan funding, of which the state received more than $8 billion.

Drawings will be conducted statewide and individually in the state’s Restore Illinois regions that coincided with mitigation efforts throughout the pandemic. In the final drawing August 26, the winners of the final two of three $1 million prizes will be chosen from a statewide pool.

To receive a vaccine, Illinoisans were required to give their information to the medical professional who administered the vaccine, so Pritzker said that is how the names will be chosen for the drawings. Anyone having received at least their first dose by July 1 would be eligible for prizes in the first drawing.

Those who win would be contacted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, who will seek permission to share the winner’s name with the Illinois Lottery. IDPH will not share information without a recipient’s consent, according to a news release.

More information is available at allin.illinois.gov.

Nearly 70 percent of the state’s 18-and-older population had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Thursday, June 17, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That number was 67 percent for Illinoisans 12 and older, and 89 percent for those 65 and older.

For full vaccination, the number as of Thursday was 50 percent for 12 and older, 53 percent for 18 and older, and 73 percent for 65 and older.

Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said they were hopeful that the lottery would increase vaccine participation to continue to drive positivity rates and hospitalizations downward. They noted vaccinations remain free for Illinoisans at a variety of locations, such as mass vaccination sites, local health departments, chain and small pharmacies, doctors’ offices and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

* * *

FOID BILL: The Illinois house on Wednesday, June 17, passed an expansive Firearm Owner Identification card law change.

House Bill 562 already passed the Senate on May 31 by a 40-17 vote and it passed the House Wednesday by a vote of 75-40.

FOID card applicants would not be required to submit fingerprints, but if they do, or they share with the Illinois State Police the fingerprints they filed to receive their Concealed Carry License, they would be eligible for the automatic renewal process, which is to be established by ISP by 2023.

Otherwise, the application fee for renewal would remain at $10 every 10 years.

The bill also strengthens enforcement mechanisms for removing guns from the hands of those who have had FOID cards revoked.

That includes creating a “prohibited persons portal” to track people who have had their cards revoked or suspended.

The bill also requires ISP to establish the Violent Crime Intelligence Task Force to aid in enforcement of FOID card revocation or suspension enforcement. The task force would “conduct enforcement operations” for those with suspended or revoked licenses, with a priority on individuals “presenting a clear and present danger to themselves or to others,” according to the bill. The task force would be a law enforcement entity, not a legislative task force.

Another portion of the bill would require ISP, by July 2022, to create a publicly searchable database that contains the serial numbers of weapons that have been reported stolen. The measure also requires the State Police to monitor state and federal databases for residents charged with firearm-related crimes.

The bill also creates a FOID Card Review Board to consider appeals on denied or revoked cards.

Also per the bill, anyone engaging in a private sale or transfer of a gun would be required to maintain records of the sale for a period of 20 years, unless it was done through a Federal Firearms Licensee.

The bill also authorizes ISP to produce an electronic FOID and Concealed Carry License, allows the agency to provide a single card for FOID and CCL, and would update FOID and CCL renewal dates to be the same for one cardholder.

The bill also allows a card applicant to notify ISP that they would like to receive text or email notifications for renewal instead of mail reminders.

* * *

REMOTE BUDGET VOTE: The Illinois House changed its rules Wednesday to allow lawmakers to cast votes on legislation remotely, giving them enough votes to pass a change to the budget bill and other measures.

Shortly after this rule change, House Democrats approved the amendment to the budget that resulted from a drafting error in the bill the House passed shortly before midnight on May 31.

The budget amendment that was requested by Gov. JB Pritzker passed the House Wednesday, 71-44, with the three additional remote votes giving Democrats the minimum number required to pass the bill.

The budget now will head back to the governor for his signature.

Pritzker issued an amendatory veto of next year’s $42.3 billion budget on Tuesday to ensure that state funding takes effect when the 2022 fiscal year begins on July 1.

Pritzker’s amendatory veto to the budget made July 1 the date that portions of next year’s operating budget would take effect, since some of those sections of the budget were not assigned an effective date.

The amendment to the budget bill was approved on Tuesday by the Senate, 36-21, which is also exactly the number of votes it needed to pass.

Votes taken in either chamber after May 31 must receive a three-fifths majority, under the state constitution, or at least 36 votes in the Senate and 71 votes in the House, in order for an earlier effective date to be implemented.

Republicans called out their Democratic counterparts for overlooking key errors in the more than 3,000-page operating budget bill that was introduced late in the night on May 31 before it was approved less than an hour later.

Some Republican House members also spoke in opposition to the resolution allowing remote voting, which will only be permitted until the first day of the fall veto session in November 2021.

Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican, said the lawmakers could vote remotely for any reason because the resolution did not establish any criteria for allowing remote participation.

* * *

JUNETEENTH HOLIDAY: The day that marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 when some of the last enslaved Americans learned that they had been freed is now an official state holiday in Illinois.

At a bill signing ceremony in front of a signed copy of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Gov. JB Pritzker signed House Bill 3922 into law, designating June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Illinois.

“With this new law, no longer can a child grow up in Illinois without learning about Juneteenth in school,” Pritzker said. “With this change, the people of Illinois will have a day to reflect on how the freedom that we celebrate just two weeks later, on the Fourth of July, was delayed to Black Americans.”

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. It declared that all slaves held in states that were in rebellion against the United States were immediately and permanently free.

That proclamation did nothing, however, for slaves held in states like Kentucky and Maryland that had not seceded from the Union. They would not become free until after ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865.

It also did not immediately free slaves who were held in territory that was still under the control of the Confederacy. Those slaves had to wait until Union forces captured their territory which, in many cases, did not happen until near the end of the war.

Most historians date the end of the war as April 9, 1865, when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who led the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. But not all Confederate armies surrendered at that time.

It was more than two months later, on June 19, 1865, when federal forces reached Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved people in that city, and throughout Texas, that they had been freed.

Under the new law, June 19 will be recognized as an official state holiday and all flags covered by the Illinois Flag Display Act will be flown at half-staff. In addition, a Juneteenth flag will fly over the State Capitol in Springfield.

* * *

BIPA LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT: Six Flags Great America has agreed to a $36 million settlement to end a class-action lawsuit over the amusement park’s use of finger-scan entry gates.

Six Flags doesn’t admit to any fault or liability as part of the agreement, which is subject to final approval at a court hearing in October.

The lawsuit, filed in Lake County, claims that the finger scan violates the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act, which regulates how companies can use an individual’s biometric data — such as a fingerprint or a scan of the hand or face geometry.

The law, passed in 2008, was first the state or federal law to establish a person’s individual right to sue over biometric privacy rights. It also requires that entities must have written consent from a person before collecting and storing that person’s biometric information.

The law also provides damages of $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.

Stacy Rosenbach, the lead plaintiff in the case against Six Flags, sued the Gurnee amusement park in 2016 on behalf of her son, Alexander, who provided his fingerprint to gain entry, without first giving his consent.

The case eventually reached the Illinois Supreme Court.

The question before the high court was whether a violation under BIPA must allege actual injury or harm, rather than basing the violation entirely on the injury or harm that occurs when biometric data is collected without a person’s consent.

Six Flags argued that there was not an actual injury because the biometric data was not breached or stolen.

In 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that “an individual need not allege some actual injury or adverse effect, beyond violation of his or her rights” in order to qualify as an “aggrieved” person under BIPA, and be entitled to damages and other relief.

After the Supreme Court ruling, both parties entered into mediation. The Lake County Court preliminarily approved the proposed settlement agreement last month and the settlement was recently made public.

Under the agreement, people who first had their finger scanned when entering Six Flags Great America between Oct. 1, 2013, and April 30, 2016, can receive up to $200, over five installments.

People who first had their finger scanned when entering the park between May 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2018, can receive up to $60, in five installments.

* * *

PHASE 5 BEGINS: Starting Friday, June 11, Illinois will be in Phase 5 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, meaning businesses and organizations can resume normal activity, although some limited restrictions will remain in place.

Under Phase 5 guidelines, capacity limits are being lifted for both indoor and outdoor activities while people who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear face coverings in most settings and businesses are no longer required to enforce mask mandates or maintain social distancing rules, although they may continue to do so if they choose.

People who have not been fully vaccinated are still encouraged to wear face coverings, and all people are still required to wear face coverings while traveling on public transportation, in congregate settings, in health care settings as well as in schools, day cares and educational institutions.

Those changes come 15 months after Gov. JB Pritzker first issued a disaster declaration in response to the pandemic which, as of Thursday, had infected nearly 1.4 million people in Illinois and claimed 23,014 lives.

Due to the wide availability of vaccines, which first became publicly available in January, new infections and hospitalization rates have reached their lowest points since the pandemic began.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Thursday that 68 percent of Illinois adults had received at least one dose of vaccine and 51 percent were fully vaccinated.

IDPH also reported Thursday that only 366 new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the previous 24 hours. That drove the seven-day average case positivity rate to just 1 percent, the lowest since the state started reporting daily test results.

As of late Wednesday night, 764 people in Illinois were reported to be hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 209 patients were in intensive care units, and 103 of those patients were on ventilators. That was the lowest number of hospital beds in use since the state began reporting the numbers as well.

* * *

PRITZKER ON PANDEMIC: During an interview with Capitol News Illinois last week, Pritzker said that even though the state was ready to enter the final reopening phase, he was not yet prepared to lift the disaster proclamation he first issued on March 9, 2020, which has served as the legal basis behind scores of executive orders such as a ban on residential evictions and utility shutoffs. It has been extended monthly since that date.

“It’s a new chapter, of course, in the pandemic but we aren’t quite ready yet to remove the disaster declaration,” Pritzker said. “There are things that need to be ramped down and, you know, making sure of course that we actually are seeing continued decrease of cases and hospitalizations.”

Asked during his interview with CNI whether, in retrospect, he wished he would have handled things differently, Pritzker said he had to work with the information he had at the time.

“I can tell you that if I knew then what I know now, I’m sure I might have made some different decisions,” he said. “But that just wasn’t something available to me. What we had was a novel coronavirus.”

Pritzker added that just a few days before he issued the stay-at-home order he received projections – a copy of which he said remains on his desk – that said if the state took no action, Chicago alone would see 20,000 deaths from COVID-19 by August of that year.

“So we had to make decisions quickly. We had to be decisive about it,” he said. “I needed to be transparent and communicate at 188 press conferences during the year 2020. And it was my job to not only give people the facts, but do that in the face of the president in Washington, D.C., who was lying to people about this. And I think people needed to hear from somebody, somebody that they would be willing to listen to, that they trust.”

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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