Legislative News from Senator Don DeWitte

This week the Illinois Senate turned a significant corner in its ability to conduct state business. With COVID-19 testing protocols in place, Senators returned to the Capitol and held a full schedule of committee hearings using a hybrid in-person and virtual platform. While a limited number of reporters were granted access, citizens and lobbyists were not allowed to attend. In the coming weeks and with similar COVID-19 protocols in place, Illinois residents and lobbyists will also be granted access to the building. Things appear to be getting back to some semblance of normalcy at the Capitol. Sort of.

To help ensure Illinoisans have access to their state government’s activities, I have been posting regular meeting announcements on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/senatordewitte). All committee hearings are streamed live, and Illinoisans can watch or listen to hearings at https://www.ilga.gov/senateaudvid.asp

After a truncated session schedule in 2020, nearly 7,000 new bills have been introduced this year that create new laws or change existing laws. Our committees are currently working their way through the vetting process, and you can see the list of legislation introduced this year at http://www.ilga.gov. This year I am personally serving as the Chief Senate Sponsor of 30 different bills. You can view my specific legislative agenda at https://www.ilga.gov/senate/SenatorBills.asp?MemberID=2923.  

DeWitte joins colleagues on Chicago Tonight for panel discussion of federal and state COVID-19 response
On Wednesday it was a pleasure to join Senators Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington), Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago), and Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) for a conversation with WTTW’s Amanda Vinicky on Chicago Tonight. During the interview, we discussed the new COVID-19 relief measure recently approved by Congress and Illinois’ handling of the health pandemic. 

Click here to watch the interview.

Normal is Still on Hold
This week marks one year since the issuance of the first COVID-19-related Executive Order, and Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the date when the Governor closed schools and prohibited gatherings of over 1,000 people. We have seen 76 individual Executive Orders over the last 12 months, and the legislative branch of state government still remains sidelined as it relates to COVID-19 decision-making. After a full year, Governor Pritzker still insists on going it alone. 

I have continually pushed for increased transparency from the Pritzker Administration, including releasing the data that the Governor has used to make his decisions. The Senate Republican Caucus has also continued to urge the Governor to involve the members of the Legislature in making decisions that involve nearly every aspect of Illinoisans’ daily lives. Instead, Gov. Pritzker has chosen to operate unilaterally via Executive Orders. 

So far, the state’s COVID-19 response efforts have been marked with controversy, inconsistent standards for different regions, an unemployment benefit system that remains broken, and relatively poor performance for the vaccination program.

Under the Governor’s Restore Illinois Plan, Illinois would not be allowed to resume normal operations until: “Either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.”

While those conditions would appear to be met, with COVID-19 positivity rates continuing to decline, and vaccination numbers and hospital capacity continuing to quickly rise, the Governor still hasn’t released any details on how the state can move forward toward Phase 5 and some sense of normalcy.

I am urging the Governor to work with lawmakers, healthcare stakeholders, and employers to develop a plan to ramp up the reopening process. Many businesses and events require significant advanced planning, which still can’t happen with no clear path in place.

As mass vaccination site at United Center limits access to Chicago zip codes, collar counties continue to struggle with inadequate vaccine supply
I am in regular contact with local health department officials across the 33rd District, and all are frustrated with the lack of transparency and guidance coming out of the Pritzker administration regarding vaccine rollout. Kane and McHenry County officials are deeply concerned about their ability to receive and administer vaccinations to residents who qualify under the Governor’s Vaccine Administration Plan. Legislators have been assured that vaccine distribution will increase significantly in the suburbs and downstate in the coming weeks, but our county health department officials need clarity and consistency now so they can adequately plan at the local level, and move qualified Illinoisans through the vaccination process as quickly and efficiently as possible.

On Monday the Senate Health Committee will meet to continue a discussion of the vaccine rollout.  IDPH Executive Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike is expected to attend that meeting. Senate Republicans who serve on that committee will be asking pointed questions about the ongoing disconnect between IDPH and county health departments, and how a lack of transparency and information is interfering with vaccine rollout capabilities outside of Cook County. The Senate Health Committee meeting is scheduled for 2:00 PM on Monday, and you can tune in and listen or watch live at https://www.ilga.gov/senateaudvid.asp.

Mass vaccination site coming to Batavia
I’m pleased to report that Kane County will soon open a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Batavia, in the former Sam’s Club building at 501 N. Randall Road. The site is expected to open in early April, and will utilize 20,000 square feet of space. The Kane County Board worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health and officials from Batavia and Aurora to determine the location for the vaccine site. The building was ultimately chosen due to its proximity to public transportation and because it has on-site restroom facilities. The current plan is for the site to be open six days per week. Plans for a similar mass vaccination site in the former Big Lots building on Western Avenue in Carpentersville fell through earlier this week when it was determined that opening two sites that close together would be cost-prohibitive.

IDNR launces news platform
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) recently announced a new user-friendly licensing, registration and reservation platform to be used by outdoorsmen and women throughout Illinois. According to IDNR, outdoor enthusiasts can visit the newly created platform for assistance and information on hunting and fishing licensing and permitting, watercraft and snowmobile titling, registration and renewals, and campground reservations. There is also a 24/7 call center (866-716-6550) available for customer service support. 

While new users will need to create a username and password, the streamlined system will house all previous profiles, licenses, past purchase information, and active campground reservations for current users. The new platform, which features a variety of new information, can be accessed through ExploreMoreIL.com and Camp.ExploreMoreIL.com.

IDNR to accept grant applications
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is now accepting grants for four different programs beginning March 5. 

IDNR is now accepting applications for the following:

  • Volunteer Fire Assistance Program: Grants would provide federal funding to fire departments serving populations of 10,000 or less for equipment and training.
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities Program: Grants would offer up to $2,000 per year per project in state funding for improvements to rehabilitation facilities that are licensed to care for endangered and threatened species.
  • State Furbearer Fund: Awards grants to non-profits or universities for projects improving furbearer habitats, projects for purposes of furbearer surveys or investigations, and projects for educating hunters, trappers and the general public about furbearers.
  • Coastal Management Grants Program: Awards grants up to $150,000 in federal funds to non-profits and local governments in the Lake Michigan coastal region.

According to IDNR, each grant program has specific criteria and guidelines that must be met for eligibility. More information on these grant opportunities can be found at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/grants/Pages/default.aspx.

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