CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker to call special session after Roe v. Wade overturned

CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker to call special session after Roe v. Wade overturned

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker will call a special session of the General Assembly in the coming weeks to focus on legislation to strengthen women’s access to abortion and other reproductive health services in Illinois.

Pritzker made that announcement Friday, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion overturning the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.

“We knew this day was coming,” Pritzker said at a hastily called news conference in Chicago. “The extremists on the Supreme Court have made an abhorrent decision, one rooted in partisanship, leaving an indelible stain on our nation.”

Pritzker had already been scheduled to hold a news conference Friday to highlight legislation he signed recently expanding access to medication that protects against HIV infection. But the Supreme Court’s decision, released shortly after 9 a.m., upended those plans and set off a flurry of reaction, both for and against the ruling.

“Today, Illinois Right to Life joins millions of Americans in celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that has denied over 63 million preborn children their most fundamental right: life,” the Illinois Right to Life organization said in a statement. “With today’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, states have regained the ability to protect preborn children and their mothers.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul criticized the decision in a statement.

“I am extremely disappointed with today’s Supreme Court decision, which jeopardizes the health, the safety and the lives of millions of women in the United States – especially those who already have the least access to health care and other resources,” he said. “This single decision rolls back 50 years of court precedent and with it, decades of progress toward reproductive autonomy.”

Illinois is among the states with laws already on the books protecting access to abortion. In 2018, the state adopted a law allowing public funding of abortion through its Medicaid program. And in 2019, lawmakers passed the sweeping Reproductive Health Act which, among other things, enshrines abortion access as a “fundamental right” in Illinois law.

Finally, during last year’s veto session, lawmakers passed a bill repealing the state’s Parental Notice of Abortion law, removing the last legal restriction on abortion in Illinois.

Friday’s Supreme Court decision will have no effect on those laws. In fact, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a concurring opinion, specifically pointed to Illinois and other states as being unaffected by the decision.

But Illinois’ laws stand in stark contrast to those of some neighboring states that already had so-called “trigger laws” on the books that would either ban or severely restrict access to abortion upon reversal of Roe v. Wade.

It wasn’t immediately clear what types of legislation lawmakers would pursue in a special session.

* * *

TUESDAY PRIMARY: The Primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 28. Voters looking to find their polling place can visit the state board of education website at bit.ly/ILpollingplaces.

Capitol News Illinois has recent coverage of the secretary of state race available at its website, capitolnewsillinois.com, as well as a rundown of the candidates in the GOP race for governor.

* * *

CULLERTON SENTENCED: A federal judge in Chicago handed down a one-year prison sentence Tuesday for a former state senator who once chaired the Senate Labor Committee.

Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of embezzlement for receiving salary and benefits from Teamsters Joint Council 25 as a purported union organizer even though he admitted to doing little or no work for the union.

Cullerton, 52, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2012 to represent the 23rd District, which at that time spanned a portion of northern DuPage County. He had previously worked as a truck driver and was a member of a local Teamsters union.

In March 2013, shortly after being sworn into office, he was given a job at Teamsters Joint Council 25 and he remained on the payroll until February 2016.

In addition to receiving a salary, monthly car and telephone allowances and bonuses, prosecutors said, Teamsters Joint Council 25 also funded Cullerton’s health and pension benefits through Teamsters Local Union 734, all totaling $248,828.

Cullerton was indicted in August 2019 on 40 counts of embezzlement. But he maintained his innocence and continued to serve in the Senate, although he was stripped of his chairmanship of the Labor Committee.

In March of this year, however, he entered a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in which he admitted to one count of embezzlement. He then resigned his Senate seat and was replaced by former state Rep. Diane Pappas, who is not running for a full term in that office.

In addition to his prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman also ordered Cullerton to repay the union $223,828, an amount that reflected the fact that he had previously made a $25,000 restitution payment. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to seek forfeiture of his Villa Park residence

Prosecutors initially asked for an 18-month sentence, which they said would reflect the seriousness of the crime.

In a court filing earlier this month, they noted that after Cullerton lost his job at Teamsters Joint Council 25, he took another “do-nothing” job as a salesman for a video gaming company in 2017 where he received a salary of $1,000 a week, an amount that was later doubled to $2,000 a week, even though he brought in little if any business for the company. He was not charged in relation to those payments.

He continued to receive those payments, prosecutors argued, until the investigation into his Teamsters employment became public.

Cullerton’s defense attorney, however, argued for a more lenient sentence of three years’ probation, with an order to perform community service and pay restitution, arguing that Cullerton was currently employed doing shift work at a warehouse and that money continues to be a source of stress for his family.

* * *

FOID RULING: In a 4-3 decision with a blistering dissent from the Republican minority, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to rule on a question of whether Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Act is unconstitutional.

It was the second time the case of the People v. Vivian Brown came before the court and the second time the court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the state statute requiring Illinoisans to receive a permit to legally own a gun.

The majority opinion released Thursday was written by Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and was procedural in nature. It contended that the White County Circuit Court failed to adhere to the Supreme Court’s previous 2020 ruling in the case, so it once again vacated the lower court’s ruling that the FOID Act was unconstitutional.

Burke was joined in the majority by Democrats Mary Jane Theis, P. Scott Neville Jr. and Robert Carter.

Justice Michael Burke – who is not related to the chief justice – wrote the dissent.

He argued the majority decision was “based on a misunderstanding of the record and a misreading of this court’s precedents,” and that it could keep the defendant in “legal limbo” for an untold period of years.

The case involves a White County resident, Vivian Claudine Brown, who was charged in March 2017 with possession of a firearm without a FOID card.

A circuit judge in White County threw out the charge, ruling that the fees and forms required to receive a FOID imposed an unconstitutional burden on Brown’s Second Amendment right to keep a firearm in her own home.

But an alternative ruling from the court contended that the Illinois General Assembly, when it passed the FOID Act, never meant for it to apply in the home, because if it did, it would mean anybody with knowledge of a firearm and exclusive control over the area where it was kept could be construed as possessing the gun.

Because the circuit court ruled on an aspect of the FOID Act pertaining to state law, the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision vacated the order pertaining to constitutionality and sent the matter back to White County to “permit the normal appellate process to run its course.”

The ruling was essentially a win for Brown, but her legal team contended it wouldn’t stand up to an appeal. Thus, Brown’s attorneys filed a motion to reconsider, arguing that the inevitable loss on appeal would delay clarity in the case.

The circuit court agreed and reinstated the charges. Brown’s attorneys then filed a new motion to dismiss on constitutional grounds, which the judge upheld, finding that “any fee associated with exercising the core fundamental Constitutional right of armed self-defense within the
confines of one’s home violates the Second Amendment.”

Thus, the state appealed the ruling back to the Supreme Court, leading to the Thursday ruling in which the majority decided the lower court had no authority to reconsider the case after the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling.

In his dissent, Michael Burke predicted the case will ultimately end up back at the Supreme Court on the constitutional basis, only after a significant delay to Brown’s detriment as the case moves through the appellate court.

* * *

UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD: A state audit released Thursday found nearly $2 billion in federal money intended to help unemployed Illinoisans during the pandemic was lost to fraudulent claims in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security blamed “insufficient and flawed federal guidance” and a lack of controls on a hastily constructed program put together by the Trump administration.

The federally-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program provided up to 39 weeks of benefits for unemployed individuals who ran out of regular unemployment benefits and for self-employed individuals, gig workers and others not eligible for regular unemployment.

The report released Thursday by Auditor General Frank Mautino covered much of the life of the program, July 2020 through June 2021.

In the early days of the pandemic, amid business shutdowns and high unemployment, states struggled under a crush of claims from those laid off during those shutdowns. Amid this volume of claims, IDES was forced to try to weed out the fraudulent claims while under pressure to get money into the hands of the recently unemployed.

The Pritzker administration has said the PUA program was designed hastily and does not give employers an opportunity to challenge fraudulent claims because the type of workers applying for benefits do not technically have employers. The PUA program also eliminated existing controls, including income and employment verification, according to a statement by IDES.

Much of the fraud, up to $163 billion estimated nationwide, involved identity theft.

Scammers filed unemployment claims using false identities and then had the payment method switched from the debit cards that people receive when they qualify for benefits to direct deposit into an account accessible by them.

The audit found that, of the $3.6 billion in PUA paid out from July 2020 through June 2021, nearly $1.9 billion was found to be fraudulent, mostly due to identity theft.

The audit found IDES failed to implement general information technology controls over PUA, failed to maintain accurate and complete claimant data and failed to perform timely cash reconciliations.

IDES responded that the system used to manage the PUA program is independent of the system used to manage regular unemployment benefits. From the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 through the end of 2021, IDES stopped $40 billion in fraudulent payments from both state and federal programs, according to the agency’s statement.

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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