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CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker launches second-term campaign with media tour

CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker launches second-term campaign with media tour

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker isn’t considering using federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay down a multi-billion-dollar Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund deficit, he told Capitol News Illinois in a one-on-one interview Wednesday, July 21.

The reason Pritzker won’t consider using federal ARPA funds on the $4.2 billion Trust Fund deficit, he said, is because he did not believe it a permissible use of the funding, and he is hopeful that the federal government will provide aid or rule changes to accommodate the 17 states that have outstanding federal borrowing balances in their trust funds amounting to $54 billion cumulatively.

“You can’t actually use ARPA funds according to the rules of ARPA. You can’t repay any debt that’s already owed to the federal government,” Pritzker said in the interview with CNI, citing the state’s initial plan to repay pandemic related Municipal Liquidity Facility funding with the ARPA funds – a use later ruled impermissible.

Interim U.S. Treasury rules for ARPA funding and the plans of dozens of other states, however, contradict the governor’s statement on the use of ARPA funds to repay the Unemployment Trust Fund deficit. The Associated Press reported on May 27 that “at least 29 states already have transferred or proposed to use a total of more than $12 billion of federal coronavirus aid for their unemployment trust funds.”

Per the interim final rule, published May 17 in the Federal Register, “recipients may make deposits into the state account of the Unemployment Trust Fund … up to the level needed to restore the pre-pandemic balances of such account as of January 27, 2020, or to pay back advances received under Title XII of the Social Security Act.”

During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Pritzker said, he spoke to President Joe Biden and Illinois’ congressional leaders to seek further federal assistance for the Trust Fund. He reiterated that Wednesday, saying federal aid could include legislation, rule changes or other actions.

Business groups last week called on Pritzker to reinstate more stringent work search requirements for Illinoisans who are on unemployment, to end a $300 federal monthly payment to unemployed individuals earlier than its September end date, and to infuse the Trust Fund with federal ARPA dollars.

But Pritzker said he is hopeful federal action might come through before that time period. Earlier this month, Illinois’ U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said he expects Congress to begin debating the next steps on unemployment as the current federal boost to benefits ends in September.

For his part, Pritzker said he has expanded child care availability in an effort to encourage a return to the workforce and alleviate stresses on the system.

* * *

PRITZKER ON PANDEMIC: Gov. JB Pritzker also spoke to Capitol News Illinois on his pandemic plans Wednesday, July 21, as case counts rise.

Pritzker said his medical advisers tell him the main focus for monitoring disease spread should be intensive care bed and hospital bed usage. But he has not set a concrete metric for those numbers that would trigger another round of mitigations.

Those numbers were increasing statewide as of Wednesday night, although they were still far off pandemic highs. There were 119 ICU beds and 628 hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday. The state’s 3 percent case positivity rate was a high since May 7, five times its June 27 rate of 0.6 percent. The 1,993 new cases reported Thursday were a high since May 5.

“What I can tell you is getting people vaccinated is the most important thing we can do right now, encouraging people to wear masks when they’re indoors in crowded areas, encouraging children who are under 12 to wear masks when they go to school, ask parents to have them wear masks when they go to school,” Pritzker said. “But unvaccinated people make up 99% of all the deaths that are occurring in the state of Illinois.”

Still, the governor said he wasn’t considering vaccine passport requirements at this time.

Pritzker also touched on the state’s fiscal outlook and whether an energy bill is likely to pass the General Assembly this year. You can listen to the full podcast here.

* * *

REELECTION CAMPAIGN: Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker announced Monday, July 19, he will seek a second term, joined once again by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton as a running mate.

In a three-minute kickoff video ending with the tagline “strong leadership in tough times,” the governor emphasized his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and contrasted himself to former U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom Pritzker frequently sparred during the height of the pandemic.

“When I ran for governor four years ago, I could not have imagined that I would end up leading the state through a global pandemic,” Pritzker said in the ad. “Look, I may not have gotten every decision right. But at every step along the way I followed the science and focused on protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people of Illinois.”

The ad shows business owners, local politicians and Illinoisans from across the state touting Pritzker’s pandemic response.

Another one-minute video posted to the Pritzker campaign’s YouTube channel features Stratton, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, touting the “history” of the pair’s 2020 election to the state’s executive office.

The announcement comes as the state is in the middle of a broader reopening period after more than a year of economic restrictions levied by Pritzker, largely through executive order, in response to the pandemic that has killed more than 23,000 Illinoisans.

But it also comes as the state and nation are seeing a resurgence of the virus as vaccination rates stagnate and a new more contagious variant spreads.

He will join a 2022 field that includes three announced Republican candidates and a number of other intriguing potential candidates.

That includes Darren Bailey, a state senator from Xenia who was an outspoken critic of the governor’s pandemic response, challenging Pritzker’s executive orders in court in a high profile case that was eventually tossed by a judge.

Paul Schimpf, an ex-state senator and former unsuccessful GOP candidate for attorney general in 2014, has also been campaigning across the state.

Gary Rabine, a Schaumburg businessman who founded the Rabine Group, an exterior services company, is also seeking the Republican nomination.

* * *

REDISTRICTING LAWSUIT: Lawyers for Illinois’ Democratic legislative leaders last week filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Republicans and a Mexican American advocacy group regarding newly drawn legislative maps, calling the challenge “purely speculative” until full U.S. Census data is released.

The motion, filed Friday, July 16, was an expected move following a Wednesday, July 14, status hearing for two consolidated lawsuits filed by Republican legislative leaders Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, and Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, as well as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.

Both suits name the Illinois State Board of Elections and its individual members as well as Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon as defendants.

MALDEF and the Republican leaders argued in their court documents that the use of American Community Survey data to draw maps represents an incomplete count and therefore violates the “one person, one vote” principle under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Republican leaders have asked the court to either force Welch and Harmon to appoint a bipartisan commission to oversee redistricting, or appoint a special party to draw the maps themselves. At last week’s status hearing, lawyers for the Democratic leaders argued that would be an extreme remedy in which federal judges are intervening in matters of state law.

But lawyers for the Democratic leaders – which include Michael Kasper, a longtime Democratic redistricting operative and ally to former House Speaker Michael Madigan – argued in the dismissal motion “there is no way to measure the validity of Plaintiffs’ equal protection allegations until the Census Bureau issues the 2020 census data.”

The lawyers for the Democratic leaders focused on the state constitution in other aspects of their motion to dismiss as well, arguing, “Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or Illinois’ Constitution or statutes mandates only the use of final census numbers in redistricting.”

The case is before a three-judge federal panel, which has a tentative trial date set for Sept. 27-29.

But there is also another status hearing scheduled for Aug. 24 – or just over a week after full census numbers will be made available. In an order scheduling that hearing, the court acknowledged that planned expert testimony is likely to “be affected (perhaps substantially) by information that will not be available until the census numbers come out.”

* * *

COLLEGE REOPENING GUIDANCE: The state’s higher education agencies released updated COVID-19 guidance Monday encouraging all public and private higher education institutions in Illinois to issue mandatory vaccine policies.

“Vaccination against COVID-19 is now widely available, and all persons over the age of 12 are eligible,” the guidance document from the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board reads. “Vaccination is the leading prevention strategy against COVID-19 and all public and private universities are strongly encouraged to require vaccination (with appropriate exemptions) to protect campus populations and slow COVID-19 transmission in surrounding communities.”

Some schools, including Northwestern University, Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois System, Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University, among others, have already announced they will require vaccinations for in-person learning.

The state’s higher education guidance falls in line with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Illinois Department of Public Health guidance on masking as well.

“Unvaccinated persons and those who might need to take extra precautions should wear a face covering and, where feasible, maintain physical distance while indoors,” the state guidance reads. “Institutions should use space wisely to allow for physical distancing to the extent practicable.”

Higher education institutions are also “strongly encouraged to continue COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated individuals to identify and slow virus transmission,” and should follow CDC guidelines on safe hygiene practices and health equity.

* * *

SCHOOLS GUIDANCE: State school districts will be under suggested rather than required guidance when it comes to face coverings with an emphasis on local control in imposing mitigations.

“Pursuant to CDC guidance, Illinois school districts have local control over how they should work with local public health officials to determine the prevention strategies needed in their area by monitoring levels of community transmission and local vaccine coverage, and using screening testing to detect cases in K-12 schools,” an Illinois State Board of Education spokesperson said in an email Thursday.

In accordance with other CDC guidelines, masks will still be required for all passengers on school buses, regardless of the school’s mask policies.

Otherwise, districts are encouraged to take a “layered” mitigation approach, accompanying masking and distancing with “screening testing, cohorting, improved ventilation, handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick with symptoms of infectious illness including COVID-19, and regular cleaning,” according to the CDC.

The guidance also recommends that if school administrators remove any prevention strategies based on local conditions, they should do so “one at a time and monitor closely (with adequate testing through the school and/or community) for any increases in COVID-19 cases.”

Free testing programs are available to Illinois schools through IDPH, while districts can also use federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding for screening testing as well, according to ISBE.

Operationally, ISBE has regulatory authority to reduce the recognition status of any school district exhibiting “deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff,” pursuant to state law, according to the spokesperson. But the state board is not invoking that authority.

“ISBE is not currently taking any recognition action against any school districts. We will continue to support school districts in aligning with the new CDC guidance,” the spokesperson said.

Districts should also promote vaccination, which is “currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the guidance.

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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