Legislative News from Senator Donald DeWitte

Sen. DeWitte publishes guest editorial questioning majority party’s legislative priorities
I recently penned this opinion piece, which was published in the Daily Herald today. It encapsulates the frustration many of us are feeling in Springfield right now. With just 13 days until our scheduled May 31 adjournment, important legislation is being ignored, while other bills that have evidently been deemed as more important by the majority party are making their way through the legislative process:

While the Illinois State Capitol remains closed to the public, and statehouse reporters are few and far between because of strict COVID-19 rules, Illinois lawmakers are taking advantage of the civic disconnect by bringing forward and passing some outrageous and controversial pieces of legislation. At the same time, common-sense measures that would promote positive change are not even being heard or considered by the Legislature.

Taxpayers continue to plead for property tax relief and reform, as the crippling tax burden drives more and more out of their homes. Massive pension debt continues to crowd out essential budget areas that fund critical services for vulnerable populations. Legislators continue to be ensnared in the sprawling federal corruption probe into political wrongdoing. But is the Legislature addressing these or other issues that erode fiscal health and create unprecedented mistrust in state government? No. Instead, the majority party has revealed some truly jaw-dropping priorities.

Click here to read more.

As CDC eases mask mandates, Illinois enters “Bridge Phase”
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most indoor settings. The announcement follows a similar announcement last week that removed mask requirements for vaccinated people in almost all outdoor locations. Governor Pritzker said he will follow the CDC’s recommendation and will impose similar new rules for Illinois.

The CDC announcement on Thursday came just one day before Illinois entered the new “Bridge Phase”, an intermediate phase prior to full reopening of Phase 5 of the Governor’s “Restore Illinois” plan. Click here to learn more about eased restrictions for the Bridge Phase, which takes effect today.

Media Coverage Showcases Democrats’ Closed-Door Redistricting Process
recent news report from WCIA TV showed video outside the Illinois House Democrats’ locked-door redistricting office in the Stratton Office Building in the Capitol Complex. The reporter attempted to interview Democrats on their way in and out of the map room, questioning their claims of an “open process” when the work was being done behind locked doors out of the view of the public.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have still refused to clarify exactly what data they are using to draw maps behind closed doors. While the decennial census data is designed for the very purpose of drawing district lines, that data will not be released until at least late summer. Democratic leaders have said that they will at least partly use information from the American Community Survey, a significantly less accurate source of data.

Fifty-nine advocacy organizations, good-government groups, and political experts and activists recently penned a letter to “unequivocally affirm the basic principle that it is not appropriate to implement electoral district lines based primarily on American Community Survey (ACS) data.” The groups taking part in the letter include organizations ranging from the NAACP and Southern Poverty Law Center to the League of Women Voters and National Urban League.

Republican lawmakers from both chambers used the opportunity to remind Gov. JB Pritzker of his campaign promise to veto any legislative map drawn by lawmakers, and called on him to provide leadership in an independent map-making process.

There is still time for the Governor to provide leadership on the issue by making it clear that he will veto a map drawn by lawmakers, a promise he explicitly made to voters when he was campaigning for Governor. Pritzker is the one person in the best position to stop the current partisan map-making process from moving forward.

Lawmakers Continue to Grill Officials over LaSalle Veterans’ Home Deaths
This week, the Senate and House both held hearings on the recent report from the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Inspector General’s report on the COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

Thirty-six veterans died during the outbreak, equivalent to a quarter of the entire population of the home. It was the deadliest outbreak at a state-run facility in Illinois history.

According to the Inspector General’s report, the Administration failed to identify the severity of the outbreak despite receiving daily positivity numbers. The Illinois Department of Public Health didn’t conduct an onsite visit until the 13th day of the outbreak. The report also noted that the Administration had completely ignored numerous recommendations from a 2019 report on the Legionnaire’s disease at the Quincy Veterans’ Home, recommendations that could have prevented or at least reduced the severity of the outbreak in LaSalle.

During the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Deputy Governor Sol Flores said she would give the management of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home an F grade in it’s handling of the outbreak. During a three-hour Senate Veterans Affairs Committee meeting today, additional questions were asked with hopes of getting to the bottom of the root issues that caused the complete breakdown of compliance with mandated protocols.

Federal Rules Throw Wrench into State Budget
Between the costs of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s built-in structural fiscal issues, the influx of nearly $8 billion in federal money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was being eyed to plug a number of holes.

Gov. Pritzker had hoped to use some of the federal money to pay back $3.6 billion that the state borrowed last year. However, an interim federal rule states that potential uses for the money “would not include interest or principal on any outstanding debt instrument.” That rule is currently being interpreted by budgeteers to mean that the funds couldn’t be used to pay back the loan.

The Illinois Comptroller’s office has stated that they are working to get further clarification on the rule.

Additionally, the federal rules state that money can’t be used to cover tax breaks, directly or indirectly, going so far as to empower the U.S. Treasury Department to claw back funds equivalent to any decrease in state tax revenue. This rule has been interpreted to mean that if Illinois accepts the ARP funding, it can’t offer any new tax breaks, credits, or reductions, including tax credits designed to help grow jobs or help reduce property taxes for struggling homeowners.

Attorney Generals from 21 states threatened to sue the U.S. Treasury Department over the ARP tax rules, with the majority of them having followed through on that promise. Illinois has not joined that effort.

Community Showers Local Police with Cards for Police Appreciation Week
I want to thank everyone who participated in my “Appreciation for Your Dedication” card drive for local law enforcement. I received a lot of cards, drawings, and well-wishes and am in the process of having them delivered to local police stations throughout the 33rd District. Our men and women in blue run toward danger without hesitation in their role as protectors of the peace, and especially during Police Appreciation Week, they deserve to know they are appreciated.

$250 Million in new Capital Funding Announced
Another round of road construction projects is about to get started across the state. This week, Illinois Department of Transportation officials announced $250 million in new grants from the Rebuild Illinois capital program.

The funds are part of the fourth of six installments that are spread out over three years. So far, more than $1 billion in capital funds have been distributed for transportation projects.

A full list of the grants can be found at: https://idot.illinois.gov/Assets/uploads/files/Transportation-System/Pamphlets-&-Brochures/Local-Roads/MFT/Yearly/RBI/RBI%20Disbursement%20-4%20Transaction%20List.pdf

Preposterous Proposals at the Capitol
In line with the opinion piece at the top of this week’s newsletter, every week, the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus is highlighting legislation that is outlandish, not very well thought out, or just plain bad for the people of Illinois. The following two bills are currently pending in the General Assembly:

  • House Bill 724:Would grant lawmakers the authority to arrest and detain individuals.
  • Senate Bill 1554:Expands “good Samaritan” immunity to include drug-induced homicide and aggravated battery violations. If this becomes law, an individual could attempt to murder someone with drugs, but as long as they call an ambulance for the victim, even if the victim dies, they could potentially be able to claim immunity from prosecution for the crime.

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