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CAPITOL RECAP: August 20, 2022

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Capitol News Illinois
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Candidates make their pitch to voters at Illinois State Fair

SPRINGFIELD – In one of the largest annual gatherings of Illinois Democrats on Wednesday, Aug. 17, the party had a message for its faithful that attended a pair of Illinois State Fair week events: “Democrats deliver.”

This year’s gathering of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association had 19 speakers, including congressional and statewide candidates and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly, while the keynote speaker was Congressman Joe Neguse, D-Colorado.

“We’ve got a hell of a record, and we ought to run on it,” Neguse said, calling this session of Congress “the most productive Congress since the Great Society in the 1960s.”

He cited a federal bipartisan infrastructure bill, gun reforms, the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act to invest tens of billions of dollars in U.S. companies to promote computer chip production, and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

On the state side, Gov. JB Pritzker touted his signature on a bill increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, a measure providing $1.8 billion in tax relief and the fact that the state has virtually eliminated a bill backlog that rose to $16 billion during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.

He also mentioned state investments in the Illinois State Police, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, the state’s pandemic response, abortion protections and the Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan.

While “Democrats Deliver” adorned the signage handed out to attendees, the speakers also sought to differentiate the party from a GOP they described as the “lunatic fringe,” “crazy as hell” and a “cult of fear.”

Former Gov. Rauner, an Evanston Republican, and former President Donald Trump were mentioned as frequently as Pritzker’s 2022 challenger, state Sen. Darren Bailey.

“I was never worried about the finances of this state even during the darkest days of the pandemic,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza said. “When my colleagues in other states would ask, 'How do you seem so calm?' I would say, 'Well, it's easy – the worst virus to ever hit Illinois' finances wasn't COVID, it was Bruce Rauner.’ And thank God we now have JB Pritzker.”

A short video presented at the brunch event showed a montage of clips from Rauner’s four years in office before cutting to images of Bailey with the text “he’s worse.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul criticized Bailey and GOP AG candidate Thomas DeVore, who he described as a “COVID ambulance chaser” for the several lawsuits he has filed aiming to lift COVID-19 mitigations in the state.

Raoul said the current political landscape means who people elect as attorney general “matters more than any time in American history.”

“It matters to fight against audacious forces who threatened to diminish our rights, attack our nation's Capitol, attack law enforcement and attack our democracy,” Raoul said.

The subject of abortion and health care rights was also a frequent talking point for speakers, including Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

“The Trump-endorsed MAGA extremist Darren Bailey will do everything in his power to try to turn back the clock on our progress,” she said. “And he has the unmitigated gall to think that the women of Illinois are going to just sit back, sit down and stay silent.”

* * *

DEM DISUNITY?: While the crowds at the gathering of Democrats often chanted in unison in support of candidates, the absence of the party’s former chair from the Wednesday events indicated there is some lingering resentment regarding her recent unseating.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly, of Matteson, was ousted as party chair last month by new chair Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, a state representative from Cicero who had Pritzker’s backing. Kelly didn’t attend the brunch or the Governor’s Day event at the State Fair that followed but issued a statement saying she’d back Democrats up and down the ballot “whether or not we are united.”

“The stakes are too high, this is the most important election of our lifetime,” she said in a statement in response to Capitol News Illinois questions.

Hernandez briefly took questions at the fair Wednesday and was asked how she would mend fences within the Democratic Party.

“I think that we are moving forward,” she said. “We are – the party is about trying to get Democrats elected in November. And that's really the focus, that is what we are all on board with. And the mending the fences … there is really just a real intent to try to get the Democrats through November and I don't see a problem.”

* * *

GOP DAY: Illinois Republicans gathered for their annual day at the State Fair on Thursday to showcase their candidates in the Nov. 8 election, vowing that the party will “restore Illinois.”

But as the party faithful celebrated amid the sunshine, barbeque sandwiches, corn dogs and other fair staples, questions lingered about how unified the party will be in supporting its ticket given that many candidates have shied away from endorsing the party’s gubernatorial nominee, state Sen. Darren Bailey, a southern Illinois farmer who has stirred controversy with his unguarded statements about abortion, the pandemic, Chicago and other issues.

“I may be a little bit rough around the edges, but I will work for you because I’m just like you,” Bailey said to an enthusiastic crowd. “And friends, I promise you this – no one will work harder for you.”

During one candidate forum in the primary campaign, Bailey referred to the state’s largest city as a “crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole,” reiterating that he believes Chicago has become a hellhole in his fair speech Thursday, Aug. 18.

In recent days he’s also come under fire for old social media posts, including one in which he compared abortion in the United States to the Holocaust.

But he is perhaps best known for joining forces with downstate attorney Thomas DeVore, now the GOP nominee for attorney general, to file multiple lawsuits challenging Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation orders.

When asked directly by reporters whether they will endorse Bailey for governor, most GOP candidates answered with statements insisting that they support the Republican Party’s candidates generally, but rarely saying that they support Bailey specifically.

“I support the ticket, and we’ve got a great ticket. I’m supporting them and I’ve said that already after the (primary) election, so I will be campaigning with every Republican who’s on the ballot between now and Election Day,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said.

Durkin also said he is focused on trying to gain seats in the Illinois House, where Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats, 45-73. But he touted the fact that this year, the party has candidates in 106 of the 118 House districts, a record for the GOP.

The rally also featured candidates for other statewide offices, including secretary of state, where state Rep. Dan Brady, of Bloomington, hopes to establish a GOP foothold by focusing exclusively on the duties of that office.

“When you talk about the race statewide, I think it’s really important to keep the focus on one thing, and that is what you’re going to do to cut down those wait times (at driver’s service facilities), what you’re going to do in the secretary of state’s office, how you’re going to improve services,” he said.

Other candidates speaking at the rally included treasurer candidate Rep. Tom Demmer, of Dixon; comptroller candidate Shannon Teresi, of Crystal Lake; U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Salvi, of Mundelein; and 13th District congressional candidate Regan Deering, of Decatur.

* * *

GUN RULES: Officials from the Illinois State Police faced questioning Wednesday, Aug. 17, from Republican lawmakers who said the agency had authority to reject a gun permit application from a man who later allegedly carried out a mass shooting at a July 4 parade in Highland Park.

The alleged gunman, Robert Crimo III, is being held without bond on a 117-count indictment for the mass shooting that left seven dead and dozens more injured.

State Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, criticized ISP for claiming that it had no authority to deny Crimo a Firearm Owners Identification, or FOID card, when he applied for one in December 2019, just three months after he had been the subject of a “clear and present danger” report filed by an individual who alleged Crimo had threatened to “kill everyone.”

“This report clearly, by any independent review, would meet the level of preponderance of the evidence,” Curran said.

The questioning came during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

ISP said in a statement after the July 4 shooting that no arrest was made following a September 2019 incident in which it was reported by a family member that Crimo threatened to “kill everyone.” As well, no one, including Crimo’s family, was willing to move forward with a complaint.

Highland Park police then forwarded a copy of the report to ISP, but because Crimo did not have a FOID card at the time, ISP discarded the report.

Under the administrative rule in place at the time, ISP was required to maintain records of people who are determined to present a clear and present danger but not if such a determination is not made.

Curran, however, questioned whether any determination had been made in Crimo’s case, pointing to what he interpreted to be inconsistencies in ISP’s public statements.

He noted that on July 5, the day after the shooting, ISP issued a news release stating that the agency took no action on the report because Crimo did not have a FOID card to revoke or a pending application to deny.

But the following day, Curran noted, ISP issued another release indicating the agency had, in fact, reviewed the Highland Park police report which indicated that officers found no probable cause to arrest Crimo.

But Kelly Griffith, ISP’s acting chief legal counsel, defended the agency’s actions, saying its hands were tied by the rules in place at the time.

“At the time that the clear present danger came to the Illinois State Police in September 2019, the rule would not have allowed us to keep that information,” she said. “The person didn't have a FOID card. They didn't have an application on file. And so that report was actually not kept.”

On July 21, ISP published a new emergency rule to make it clear that the agency will maintain records of clear-and-present-danger reports, even if the person does not have a FOID card or pending application.

It also broadens the definition of a clear and present danger to match the definition in statute, which does not require that the person pose an “ impending, or imminent threat” or that the threat be “articulable and significant."

JCAR did not issue an objection to the emergency rule Wednesday, meaning it is allowed to remain in place through the 150-day window.

* * *

SESSION UPDATE: Gov. JB Pritzker this week gave an update on the possibility of a special session, outlined new state infrastructure investments and announced a new program for some Illinoisans over age 55.

While the governor quickly announced he would call a special session after the landmark Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade was overturned in June, lawmakers have thus far not scheduled any return to the Capitol.

Last week, Pritzker wasn’t any clearer as to when he expected lawmakers to return to address issues such as abortion rights and gun violence.

“As you know, the working groups are hard at work in the House of Representatives, working on various aspects of legislation, working with advocates, listening to them,” he said. “And so we're cautiously optimistic that they'll be able to come up with ideas for us to be able to bring forward in a special session, or in veto session, or some of it may even be in the new year.”

On Tuesday, Pritzker was asked about session again, noting he was in favor of banning high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons like the ones used in the Highland Park July 4 shooting.

But, he said, measures passed after May 31 need three-fifths supermajorities to become law immediately once signed. Bills passed with simple majorities after that date cannot take effect until June 1 of the following year, or in this case June 1, 2023. Measures passed after Jan. 1, however, can take effect immediately on a simple majority vote.

“So the question is, can they come up with a compromise or bills that will meet my requirements that could get done before the new session, and that's what I'm looking for,” he said.

The regular veto session is scheduled for Nov. 15 through 17 and Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.

* * *

MAIN STREET IMPROVEMENTS: In his latest celebration of state infrastructure funding, Gov. JB Pritzker stopped in Alton Monday, Aug. 15, to highlight a $106 million state investment in revitalization of main streets across Illinois. It will be met by $109 million in other matching funds, for a total investment of $215 million.

The state was able to double its initial planned $50 million investments in the program to $106 million due to funding made available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, according to the governor’s office.

The grants will be made through the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in more than 50 communities with a maximum allotment of $3 million.

The funding is aimed at modernizing downtowns, addressing long-awaited infrastructure needs and boosting local economies, Pritzker said.

In Alton, that includes $3 million for the renovation of downtown space for a business incubator. In Rantoul in Champaign County, it included $3 million for downtown improvements, infrastructure upgrades and implementation of a master plan.

Over $2 million will go to Carbondale for downtown arts and entertainment district improvements, while Carrollton, in Greene County, will see $1.9 million for courthouse improvements.

The funding for Rebuild Illinois’ building infrastructure component comes from an expansion of gambling in the state, as well as an increase to cigarette taxes and parking taxes. Those measures have all been in place since 2019.

A full list of downtown revitalization projects is available here.

Pritzker also stopped in Belleville Monday to announce a plan for a new law enforcement-focused campus in partnership with the city of Belleville, Southwestern Illinois College, the Illinois State Police, and Southern Illinois University.

The Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Development Campus will be located at a site which once housed Lindenwood University’s undergraduate program.

The city of Belleville purchased the building through a $3 million DCEO grant, and SWIC was allocated $5.9 million from the Illinois Community College Board to operate the facility.

* * *

SENIOR PROGRAM: On Senior Day at the fair Monday, Aug. 15, Pritzker and representatives from the Illinois Department of Human Services announced the state’s participation in a Medicare- and Medicaid-funded program aimed at giving Illinoisans aged 55 and older in certain communities an alternative to nursing home care.

The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, will be available to Illinoisans age 55 and older who qualify for Medicaid and Medicare in West Chicago, South Chicago, Southern Cook County, Peoria and East St. Louis.

The program provides coordinated medical care and social services to adults who fit those categories and qualify for nursing home care but can safely live at home.

It’s a federal program that Illinois tried to participate in in the 1990s, IDHS Director Theresa Eagleson said, but participation was minimal. Pritzker said 31 states already have such programs in place.

“Seniors who enroll in PACE will receive interdisciplinary and comprehensive services right in their communities right at home,” Pritzker said. “That's everything from home and personal care to individualize specialty medical care and diagnostic services.”

The governor’s office said the programs are expected to be up and running in Fiscal Year 2024, which begins in July 2023. The funding comes from a redistribution of existing resources within the state’s managed care program.

* * *

INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN: The Illinois Department of Transportation on Friday, Aug. 12, laid out a $34.6 billion six-year spending plan for road, bridge, transit, rail, airport and port upkeep.

It’s the latest multi-year plan backed by the state’s 2019 Rebuild Illinois bipartisan infrastructure law, which doubled the state’s motor fuel tax from 19 to 38 cents per gallon and scheduled it to grow with the rate of inflation. That measure also increased driving-related fees, redirected a portion of the state’s sales tax on motor fuel to the road fund and authorized borrowing to pay for construction projects.

Approximately $8.6 billion has already been spent in the first three years of the Rebuild Illinois plan on road and bridge projects.

It’s a slower pace than laid out in the six-year $33.2 billion spending plan passed in 2019. But IDOT Secretary Omer Osman said he’s hopeful that the pace picks up as several large projects move beyond the initial engineering phase.

IDOT has expanded its engineering staff and lawmakers approved a “design-build” process in Senate Bill 2981 this year to combine the design and construction in a more efficient bidding process, which could also hasten things, he said.

The highway portion of the multi-year plan – a required filing each year for the state’s transportation agency – accounts for $24.6 billion of the planned spending. Of that, $13.3 billion, or 54 percent, is federally funded, just over $6 billion is state funding, $4.1 billion comes from bond proceeds, and $1.2 billion comes from local reimbursements.

The current fiscal year, which began July 1, is scheduled to see $3.7 billion in new construction under the road and bridge plan.

Road projects are underway in all nine of the state’s IDOT districts, from a $54 million interchange reconstruction, bridge replacement and repair on Interstate 80 in Will County, to $100.3 million for improvements on Interstate 24 from Metropolis to Interstate 57 in Massac, Johnson and Williamson counties.

Another near-$10 billion in combined state, federal, local and private spending was laid out for transit, marine transportation, railways and airports. Of that, 59 percent was state spending and 31 percent federal.

Projects in that plan range from construction of high-speed rail between St. Louis and Chicago to airport upgrades to support for major port renovations at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers near Cairo in southern Illinois.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last year allowed Illinois to expand its multi-year plan by $4 billion, Osman said.

* * *

INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING HISTORY: The Rebuild Illinois plan passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Gov. JB Pritzker’s first year as governor, marking the first state capital infrastructure plan in nearly a decade.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed it as forward-thinking for its automatic motor fuel tax increase, raised registration rates for electric vehicles, and the authorization of bonding to pay for construction.

The motor fuel tax and fee increase, contained in Senate Bill 1939 passed 48-9 in the Senate and 83-29 in the House. The spending plan, contained in House Bill 62, passed 95-18 in the House and 53-6 in the Senate. The bonding authority measure, contained in House Bill 142, passed 94-20 in the House and 53-6 in the Senate.

One lawmaker voting against all three portions of the plan was then-Rep. Darren Bailey, the Xenia Republican and current state senator who is challenging Pritzker in the 2022 governor’s race.

Bailey has frequently criticized the motor fuel tax increase, successfully using it as an avenue of attack against challengers in the Republican primary. But he hasn’t offered up an infrastructure funding plan of his own.

Asked for comment on the infrastructure plan and potential alternatives Friday, Bailey’s team issued a statement.

“JB Prtizker’s gas tax hike gave Illinois the second-highest gas tax in the country, and some of the highest gas prices. It is simply not affordable,” spokesperson Joe DeBose said in a statement. “48 states are able to build their transportation infrastructure with lower gas taxes than Illinois. We can do better with zero-based budgeting and reprioritizing spending, but not with J.B. Pritzker in charge.”

Osman, who has worked at IDOT for more than 30 years and became its director under Pritzker, said the motor fuel tax increase means infrastructure improvements can continue beyond Rebuild Illinois’ initial six-year lifespan.

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.