Legislative News from Senator Don DeWitte

Governor Outlines Bridge Phase for Reopening
Yesterday Governor JB Pritzker abandoned original language from his Restore Illinois Plan regarding the movement from Phase 4 to Phase 5, and announced a new “bridge” phase with new requirements that must be met as we transition to Phase 5.

It is important to note that legislators learned the details of the new “bridge” plan at the same time as the general public. Once again, the Governor created these new requirements without consulting with the legislature. Even though the Senate and House are back in session in Springfield, the Governor still insists on going it alone with every aspect of the COVID-19 response.

According to the Governor’s new plan, this newly-created bridge phase will kick in once the following benchmarks are met for 28 consecutive days:

  • 70% of people 65 and older have received at least one vaccination dose (today at 58%);
  • ICU bed availability remains at 20% or greater; and
  • there is a non-increasing trend in COVID-19 hospital admissions and mortality rate.

After moving to the bridge phase, transitioning to Phase 5 still cannot occur until 50% of those age 16-64 have received at least one vaccination dose (today at 28%), and ICU availability, hospital admission and death rates are maintained or trend downward. Those age 16+ will be eligible for vaccines on April 12.

Due to ongoing requests from the business community and from legislators, today the Governor also announced a small change to current Phase 4 mitigations, and slightly relaxed mitigations for the bridge phase. Click here to view a detailed chart for settings, and how capacity limits would change between Phase 4 and the bridge phase.

When making his announcement today, the Governor once again said science and data are driving his decisions. Despite repeated requests by lawmakers, he has yet to provide us with the specific science and data he is using. He is also leaving no room for geographical differences, as he announced today that the entire state will move from Phase 4 to the bridge phase and to Phase 5 together.

As of today, we are a full year into the health pandemic. During these last 12 months the Governor has issued 76 individual Executive Orders, and during this time legislators have been offered exactly zero opportunities to provide input on pandemic policy decisions. Two of my Senate colleagues and I penned a guest editorial about the issue, and it was published today by Shaw Media. You can read our op ed here.

Batavia vaccination site now accepting appointments
Illinois residents can now sign up for appointments at the Batavia vaccination center online or by phone. The center, located at 501 N. Randall Road in the former Sam’s Club store, is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday as long as they have vaccine doses to administer. Go to: Kanevax.org to register for an appointment online, or call 833-621-1284 if you would prefer to sign up by phone.

Meanwhile, the Illinois National Guard has been deployed to McHenry County to provide assistance to the county health department as it continues to work diligently to vaccinate qualifying residents.

Upon learning of the deployment, Melissa Adamson, Public Health Administrator of the McHenry County Department of Health said, “We appreciate the Illinois National Guard supporting vaccination efforts in McHenry County. The addition of a mobile and fixed team will help us expand our capacity so that we can get more residents vaccinated faster. The staffing resources the guard brings will not only enable us to expand the hours of operation and serve more people at the McHenry mass vaccination, but also strategically target businesses and communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Senator DeWitte discusses Illinois’ use of federal COVID relief funds on WCIA
Earlier this week I sat down with Champaign WCIA Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Maxwell to discuss federal COVID relief funds that are headed to Illinois, and how our state could best utilize those funds. I firmly believe this money should be used to pay down debt and to fill this year’s COVID-19-related budget hole. The funds should not be used in any way on new programs.

The funds should be viewed as one-time revenue that cannot be duplicated in subsequent years, and should be channeled responsibly. A key budget hold area I would like to see addressed is Education. The existing funding formula calls for specific budget dollars to be channeled to our pre-K-12 schools, and Governor Pritzker has recommending shortchanging our schools due to budgetary constraints tied to the health pandemic.

Click here to watch that interview.

Redistricting process begins
The Illinois Senate and House Redistricting committees began this week to hold the first of many hearings as the once-a-decade remap process gets underway. Every 10 years, following the decennial U.S. census, lawmakers are required to update legislative and congressional districts to match changes and shifts in population. Historically, Illinois has a notorious reputation for partisan, “gerrymandered” district maps. The existing process is a winner-take-all system where the party in power has the ability to draw maps that favor their candidates. This often leads to legislative districts that so strongly favor one party that sitting lawmakers repeatedly run for reelection unopposed. In 2020, 62 out of 138 legislative races on the ballot were uncontested.

The Senate Republican Caucus has repeatedly called for reforms to the redistricting system, and for the creation of an independent, nonpartisan map-making committee. Leaders across the country agree, from former Presidents Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, that gerrymandering is bad for democracy.

You can add your voice to the call by signing my fair maps petition at https://senatordewitte.com/News/1019/Sign-the-Petition-for-Fair-Maps/news-detail/.

Helping Businesses Recovering from Pandemic
New legislation has been filed aimed at providing a boost to still-struggling businesses by expanding the state’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) Program. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation.

Filed by State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg), Senate Bill 1615 would allocate 25 percent of future federal COVID-19 relief funds received by the state to the BIG Program to provide economic relief to small businesses that experienced losses due to the ongoing pandemic.

The BIG Program was implemented in two rounds, with approximately $580 million allocated to the program. Funding was evenly split between childcare providers and every other kind of business.

For the business grant portion, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) reported more than 40,000 applications but only awarded grants to approximately 9,000 of the applicants, leaving the vast majority (79 percent) without assistance.

McHenry County food establishment permit fees cut in half
Earlier this week the McHenry County Board of Health voted to reduce all health permit fees for food establishments by 50%. The fee reduction will cover the May 1, 2021 – April 30, 2022 permit year, and applies to all food establishment categories, including fixed establishments, mobile food units, and temporary events. The fee reduction is in response to losses and other hardships these businesses have endured due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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