CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker calls for federal action on guns, supports assault weapons ban

CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker calls for federal action on guns, supports assault weapons ban

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – In the wake of a July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park that left seven people dead and dozens more injured, Gov. JB Pritzker is calling for a ban at both the state and national levels on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

The governor made those calls on national cable television and at the White House in recent days.

“While I support an assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban at the state level, we urgently need federal regulation on the weapons of war and high-capacity magazines that are used only for mass murder,” Pritzker said in a statement released last week. “Illinois is not an island, and even with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, our state is only as safe as the state with the weakest laws — many of which border Illinois.”

The weapon used in the Highland Park shooting has been identified as a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, a semi-automatic rifle that holds 30-round magazines of 5.56mm ammunition. The alleged shooter, Robert Crimo III, reportedly used three such magazines during his attack on a Fourth of July parade, firing off more than 80 shots in a matter of just a few minutes.

Although the letters “M&P” stand for “Military & Police,” it and others like it have been widely available to civilians at sporting goods stores throughout the country.

The weapon used in Highland Park is also similar to guns used in other recent mass shootings, including the May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead, and the May 14 shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store that killed 10 people.

All those weapons are modeled after the Colt AR-15, a semi-automatic version of a rifle originally designed for the military.

On Monday, Pritzker and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering were at the White House for an event with President Joe Biden marking the recent signing of the Safer Communities Act, the first significant federal law addressing gun violence in nearly 30 years.

Later in the day, Pritzker appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and he repeated his call for additional measures to control gun violence, including strengthening red flag laws and state and federal assault weapons bans.

Gun rights advocates, on the other hand, argue that eliminating one type of gun from society will not address the underlying causes of gun violence.

* * *

NEW IDPH DIRECTOR: IIllinois will soon have a new Department of Public Health director after Gov. JB Pritzker announced announced an appointment this week.

Dr. Sameer Vohra, a Springfield pediatrician, will still need approval from the state Senate to become the permanent replacement for former Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who retired as the state’s health director to lead Sinai Health System, a nonprofit safety net hospital.

Until then he will serve in an “acting” capacity.

Vohra is a general pediatrician who holds degrees in law and public policy, with a recent focus on improving health outcomes in central and southern Illinois, according to the governor’s office. He serves as an associate professor of pediatrics at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, where he received his medical doctorate.

Vohra said in a news release he was humbled by the announcement.

“Gov. Pritzker, along with the dedicated staff of IDPH, have served our state admirably during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “I am honored to lead this agency into the future, continuing to keep us safe from emerging illnesses, supporting our public health workers, and promoting wellness in every community across Illinois.”

Vohra’s job, which will officially begin Aug. 1, comes with a salary of $185,673. At that time, he will replace Amaal Tokars, an Ezike deputy who has been filling the post since the former director’s departure. She’ll remain an assistant director.

Vohra completed a residency in pediatrics and a Master of Arts in public policy at the University of Chicago, and has a juris doctorate from SIU School of Law, where he graduated first in his class. He completed his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University.

“Dr. Vohra is accomplished in every sense of the word,” Pritzker said in a statement announcing the appointment. “His experience and education transcend sectors and fields, bringing a well-rounded perspective to this agency. As a leader in state and national health policy, I have absolute confidence in Dr. Vohra’s ability to continue shaping a stronger IDPH for the 21st century.”

* * *

EXECUTIVE ORDER: Gov. JB Pritzker continued to scale back the scope of his executive orders related to a COVID-19 disaster declaration that has been ongoing in 30-day periods since March 2020.

His latest executive order, issued Tuesday, July 12, decreased the level of testing required for unvaccinated health care workers.

Unvaccinated workers at skilled nursing facilities, homes for the developmentally disabled and other long-term care facilities will be required to test weekly only when COVID-19 transmission levels are at a moderate level, and twice weekly at substantial or high levels as classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Testing is not required where transmission levels are low, according to the governor’s order.

For hospitals and other facilities, weekly testing is required where transmission levels are high, while no testing is required in areas of lower transmission.

As of Thursday, the COVID-19 transmission level, a metric based on new cases per 100,000 individuals over the previous seven days, was high in all of the state’s 102 counties, according to the CDC. The level was only considered “low” in 1.4 percent of the entire U.S.

The latest executive order does not reissue vaccine mandates for emergency services personnel or higher education employees or students.

Mandates will remain in place at K-12 schools and day cares.

Pritzker’s latest disaster declaration runs through July 24, and he noted in a June 30 interview with Capitol News Illinois he plans to continue to issue the orders while ramping down their scope.

“We have significantly reduced the number of things that fall under our executive orders with regard to COVID,” he said. “In fact, if you look back every month, a little bit less, a little bit less, we’re ramping down things. Some of them are hugely important to keep people safe even now. And we’re not entirely out of the pandemic. So, we want to make sure that we’re helping people as we ramp down the executive orders. Most importantly, what we’ve done has worked, we’ve kept thousands of people alive, who otherwise would have passed away.”

There were 1,342 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday night, up about 200-300 from the same time last month but still far off the pandemic highs of January, when more than 7,000 Illinoisans were hospitalized. COVID-19 patients occupied 150 intensive care unit beds, also far below pandemic highs when more than 1,200 ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.

* * *

ELECTRIC VEHICLES COORDINATOR: Included in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act energy reform which passed last year was a requirement that the state hire an electric vehicles coordinator within the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

On July 1, Megha Lakhchaura was appointed to that role at a salary of $180,000 annually. She’ll lead the state’s push to put 1 million EVs on state roads by 2030 through a number of incentives in state law and the rollout of expanded charging infrastructure.

She previously served since 2018 as the director of policy in North America for EVBox, an electric vehicle supply equipment company based in Amsterdam. Prior to that she was policy director for the rooftop solar and battery storage provider Sunrun Inc., and was a public utilities regulatory analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.

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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