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CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker will seek a second term

CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker will seek a second term

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker announced Monday 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.

* * *

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.

* * *

‘NO PLAN’ FOR MITIGATIONS: Gov. JB Pritzker’s office on Friday, July 16, said the administration did not plan to reimpose COVID-19 mitigations last week, although later in the day the governor said he would continue to monitor high spread areas.

“Restore Illinois mitigations that were enacted during the height of the pandemic allowed for safe and proven infection prevention measures since no vaccine was available,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office said in an email Friday. “Currently there is no plan to implement any additional mitigations now that there is an abundance of vaccine available and accessible across Illinois. We encourage all Illinoisans ages 12+ to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

But Pritzker, speaking at a news conference regarding infrastructure later Friday, said his administration is “always open to making changes in policy in order to keep people safe and healthy.”

“Obviously, we’ve got rising rates of infection in certain parts of the state, and decisions will be made if those areas continue to have rising infection rates, about whether or not we need to impose some different standard for those areas,” he said, speaking of counties on the border of Missouri, which has one of the worst infection rates in the nation.

The state’s COVID-19 case positivity rate rose to 2.4 percent on a seven-day rolling average Monday, more than quadrupling what it was on June 26. The 1,151 cases reported Sunday made for the highest single-day count since May 26.

Hospitalizations for the virus have risen as well, with 537 hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients as of Sunday night, the highest number since June 19. On a seven-day average from Monday to Sunday, there were 499 beds in use by COVID-19 patients, a 14 percent increase from the same period one week prior.

There were 100 intensive care beds in use on average over that same seven-day period, an 11 percent increase from the week prior. Ventilator usage remained steady with 35 in use on average for the week.

* * *

BAN ON DECEPTIVE INTERROGATION: On Thursday, July 15, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill banning deceptive police interrogation of minors. The measure, Senate Bill 2122, was unanimously approved by lawmakers earlier this year, and Illinois has been hailed as the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

Laura Nirider, a law professor and co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law where the bill was signed, said in Illinois alone there have been at least 100 recorded wrongful convictions that have been based on false confessions, including 31 cases in which a child falsely confessed.

The new law, which takes effect in January, makes a confession by a person under the age of 18 inadmissible in court if the officer who conducted the interrogation “knowingly engages in deception.”

Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bill in the House, said aside from the obvious justice and public safety aspects of the bill, it is also prudent from a fiscal perspective, as wrongful incarceration is expensive and governments often have to pay large sums of money to settle lawsuits.

The deceptive interrogations ban was one of four bills signed Thursday by Pritzker, all of which were carried in the Senate by Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.

Senate Bill 2129: Pritzker also signed a measure allowing a state’s attorney to file a motion to resentence a defendant if the original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.”

“This bill allows prosecutors to consider factors including prison disciplinary records, proof of rehabilitation, and being a reduced risk to society due to age or health and to ensure that we continue to address mass incarceration and overly punitive sentences,” Pritzker said.

The process does not allow for a reopening of a conviction or for a longer sentence than what was initially given, and victims of the crime will still be afforded rights outlined in the Rights of Crime Victims and Witness Act.

Senate Bill 64: Another measure aims to encourage restorative justice by making “anything said or done” in the course of a restorative justice practice “privileged,” meaning it cannot be used “in any civil, criminal, juvenile, or administrative proceeding.”

Illinois first began using restorative justice courts in 2017. According to the Illinois State Bar Association, restorative justice is meant to bring together the offenders, victims and communities to “address and repair the harm.”

The legislation defines this practice as when “parties who have caused harm or who have been harmed and community stakeholders collectively gather to identify and repair harm to the extent possible, address trauma, reduce the likelihood of further harm, and strengthen community ties.”

House Bill 3587: The final bill signed by Pritzker creates a Resentencing Task Force to “study innovative ways to reduce the prison population in Illinois from initiations of resentencing motions filed by incarcerated individuals, state’s attorneys, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the judicial branch,” according to the legislation.

* * *

MARIJUANA LOTTERIES SCHEDULED: More than a year after new marijuana dispensary licenses were scheduled to be distributed per the state’s 2019 adult-use legalization law, the governor’s office announced the initial lottery and two new ones will happen by the end of August.

Pritzker signed House Bill 1443 Thursday, July 15, an effort to jumpstart the equity measures in the 2019 law that aimed to diversify the largely white, male-dominated legal marijuana industry.

Per the initial law, 75 dispensary licenses were to have been distributed over one year ago, but of the 900-plus applicants for those licenses, only 21 achieved the perfect score necessary to be entered into the final lottery. That caused the governor’s office to pause the final lottery amid backlash from equity advocates. That lottery will now be held Aug. 19 with all 21 finalists eligible to win licenses.

The first new lottery for 55 licenses includes any firm that scored at least an 85 percent on its initial application that has not hit a 10-license limit. That lottery will be held July 29.

The second new batch of 55 licenses would be available to firms that scored 85 percent or higher that also have at least 51 percent ownership meeting social equity requirements, including living in an area impacted by the war on drugs for at least 10 years, having been arrested or convicted of a marijuana crime eligible for expungement, or being a member of a family impacted by the war on drugs. That lottery is scheduled for Aug. 5.

The lotteries for all marijuana-related licenses will be managed by the Illinois Lottery and drawn by a randomized computer process.

The governor’s office also announced Thursday that the Illinois Department of Agriculture has reached out to 213 winners of other marijuana-related licenses. Those include 40 craft grow licenses – a grow operation with a smaller footprint than the massive cultivation centers – as well as 32 licenses for infusing other products such as foods or oils with marijuana and another 141 licenses to transport marijuana products.

The original legalization law also allowed up to eight community colleges in the state to receive licenses to develop a curriculum to train students in marijuana related fields. The new law signed Thursday removes that cap.

* * *

LEGISLATIVE WATCHDOG RESIGNS: Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope resigned Wednesday, July 14, saying lawmakers were not serious about ethics reforms.

Pope, who had held the job since December 2018, said in a resignation letter to members of the Legislative Ethics Commission, which oversees the inspector general, that she was frustrated by the unwillingness of lawmakers to enact ethics reform measures that would have given her office more independent authority.

“This past legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority,” Pope wrote. “The LIG has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations. The position is essentially a paper tiger.”

The office of inspector general is overseen by an eight-member, bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Legislative Ethics Commission, which must give its approval before the inspector general can launch an investigation.

During the spring legislative session, lawmakers passed an ethics bill, Senate Bill 539, which is awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature. It gives the inspector general independent authority to launch investigations, but only upon the filing of a formal complaint. It also makes a number of changes to financial disclosure requirements and limits the ability of lawmakers to leave office and immediately go to work as lobbyists.

However, the bill does not give the inspector general authority to issue subpoenas or release the results of an investigation without approval from a majority of the commissioners, powers that Pope had argued are needed for the office to be effective.

The bill also limits the inspector general’s jurisdiction to matters concerning a lawmaker’s public duties or use of state office or employment.

Asked about the bill during a news conference Thursday, Pritzker said it includes many provisions that he favors but conceded it does not go as far as he would have liked.

* * *

REDISTRICTING LAWSUITS: Lawyers for plaintiffs and the state told a panel of federal judges Wednesday, July 14, the issues involved in two lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative redistricting plan are “straightforward” and ought to be resolved in short order.

But the three-judge panel hearing the case appeared uncertain about how much time they actually have, given the deadlines that are spelled out in the Illinois Constitution and the fact that lawmakers this year pushed back the 2022 primary by three months, to June instead of March.

The two lawsuits – one by Republican legislative leaders and another by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF – both argue that the new state House and Senate district maps violate the U.S. Constitution because they were drawn using survey data rather than official U.S Census numbers, which have been delayed this year due to the pandemic and other factors.

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.

Those two cases have since been consolidated and assigned to a three-judge panel, as is required under federal law whenever a suit challenges the constitutionality of a redistricting plan. Those include Judge Robert Dow Jr., of the Northern District of Illinois; Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, of the Northern District of Indiana, and Judge Michael B. Brennan of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the hearing, the panel issued an order directing all parties to begin lining up their expert witnesses and setting a schedule of deadlines for filing briefs. The case is tentatively set for trial Sept. 27-29.

* * *

EVICTION ‘TRIAGE’ PERIOD: With the state-imposed moratorium on residential evictions set to expire Aug. 1, the Illinois Supreme Court announced a plan Thursday, July 15, that provides an additional one-month “triage” period for tenants and landlords in certain cases to seek rental assistance.

Gov. JB Pritzker first issued an executive order prohibiting residential evictions in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That order has since been revised and extended several times.

On Wednesday, he announced that he plans to issue a new executive order on July 23 that will allow new eviction cases to be filed beginning Aug. 1 against people who are currently covered by the moratorium. That includes people whose income is below certain thresholds and who are unable to make their full rent or mortgage payment due to a COVID-19 related hardship.

However, a prohibition on enforcement of eviction orders against those people will remain in place through Aug. 31.

In an order released Thursday, the Supreme Court said during that window, it will implement a triage period in which Illinois courts will focus on referring newly filed cases to state programs providing financial assistance to landlords and tenants.

The order states that in any eviction case filed against a person covered under the current executive order, a landlord must certify that the defendant has provided with a tenant declaration form available through the Illinois Housing Development Authority stating that they are eligible for protection from eviction. Landlords also must certify that they either haven’t received the form back from the tenant or that some other exemption in the executive order applies in their case.

Also during August, all trials and judgments involving qualifying individuals will be under a temporary stay. Courts will be allowed to hear motions for default judgment against people who fail to appear at a scheduled hearing, but “only after the defendant is given notice to appear at a separate hearing on a motion for default.”

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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