CAPITOL RECAP: Lawmakers will return to Springfield next week to hear energy bill
Capitol News Illinois file photo
By Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers will be back in session next week to consider a sweeping energy overhaul bill and possibly other legislation.
The Senate is planning to come in Tuesday, June 15, and the House is planning to meet Wednesday, June 16.
An announcement from Senate President Don Harmon’s office said, “It is expected that the Senate session will be one day only,” with the purpose of passing “clean energy legislation that Gov. JB Pritzker negotiated to set Illinois on a path to a nation-leading renewable energy plan.”
The House left the door open for further action, including consideration of an elected Chicago school board bill which already passed the Senate.
“As I indicated before we adjourned on the final day of session, the House is expected to return next week on Wednesday, June 16, to take care of some final-action legislation,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said in a statement. “Items such as the energy proposal, unemployment insurance, and an elected school board for Chicago will be at the top of our list. We were able to accomplish big things this legislative session, and I'm eager to keep that spirit alive in a quick special session next week.”
The energy proposal, which has been in negotiations since Pritzker’s first year in office in 2019, had not yet been filed in bill form as of Tuesday, but lawmakers and stakeholders had previously noted it was agreed to in principal.
One of the sticking points at the end of the regular legislative session was whether municipal energy providers would be exempted from a provision in the bill that aims to shut down coal plants in the state by 2035.
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BIPA LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT: Six Flags Great America has agreed to a $36 million settlement to end a class-action lawsuit over the amusement park’s use of finger-scan entry gates.
Six Flags doesn’t admit to any fault or liability as part of the agreement, which is subject to final approval at a court hearing in October.
The lawsuit, filed in Lake County, claims that the finger scan violates the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act, which regulates how companies can use an individual’s biometric data — such as a fingerprint or a scan of the hand or face geometry.
The law, passed in 2008, was first the state or federal law to establish a person's individual right to sue over biometric privacy rights. It also requires that entities must have written consent from a person before collecting and storing that person’s biometric information.
The law also provides damages of $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.
Stacy Rosenbach, the lead plaintiff in the case against Six Flags, sued the Gurnee amusement park in 2016 on behalf of her son, Alexander, who provided his fingerprint to gain entry, without first giving his consent.
The case eventually reached the Illinois Supreme Court.
The question before the high court was whether a violation under BIPA must allege actual injury or harm, rather than basing the violation entirely on the injury or harm that occurs when biometric data is collected without a person’s consent.
Six Flags argued that there was not an actual injury because the biometric data was not breached or stolen.
In 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that “an individual need not allege some actual injury or adverse effect, beyond violation of his or her rights” in order to qualify as an “aggrieved” person under BIPA, and be entitled to damages and other relief.
After the Supreme Court ruling, both parties entered into mediation. The Lake County Court preliminarily approved the proposed settlement agreement last month and the settlement was recently made public.
Under the agreement, people who first had their finger scanned when entering Six Flags Great America between Oct. 1, 2013, and April 30, 2016, can receive up to $200, over five installments.
People who first had their finger scanned when entering the park between May 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2018, can receive up to $60, in five installments.
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IDNR STAFFING: As Illinois begins its official reopening and residents flock to state parks this summer, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources faces a severe staffing shortage, according to IDNR chief of staff Kristin DiCenso.
“It's very, very difficult to manage,” DiCenso said. “We get a lot of complaints from not only the general public, but also from legislators about staffing at sites.”
DiCenso testified Thursday, June 10, before the state Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. The Senate committee hearing was for discussion only, and no committee action was taken.
DiCenso said the agency’s headcount back in 2003 was more than 1,700, compared to roughly 1,170 today.
While the number of employees decreased by the hundreds, the agency has since gained responsibility of about 100 additional sites through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which was absorbed by IDNR in 2017.
DiCenso said the agency would ideally have 2,500 employees — staffing levels the agency has not seen since before 2003.
DiCenso said IDNR closed its public areas early on in the pandemic but began reopened most of them by May 29, 2020.
According to attendance records, Illinois state parks, fish and wildlife recreational areas, as well as historic sites, saw 26.7 million visitors from June through December in 2019, compared to 28.4 million visitors during the same time period in 2020, she said.
DiCenso said IDNR could address its staffing shortage and improve its service with increased state funding. The amount of state general revenue funding to IDNR for the upcoming fiscal year is unchanged from the previous year at roughly $40.3 million.
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DOWNSTATE TOURISM: A Senate tourism committee heard from downstate industry officials Thursday, June 10, and business owners who worry local tourism spending will not quickly return to pre-pandemic levels.
Cory Jobe, president and CEO of Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau, said the tourism industry in southern Illinois was booming before the pandemic hit.
In 2018 and 2019 combined, visitors spent more than $1.4 billion in the six-county region that the tourism bureau promotes, and they generated nearly $80 million in state and local tax revenues. The six-county region covers Madison, Macoupin, Montgomery, Jersey, Calhoun and Greene counties in southwest Illinois.
“The impacts of COVID-19 were drastic and devastating,” Jobe said. “Losses were deep and will take time to recover to pre-pandemic levels, especially for the meetings market and the sports tourism market. The recovery has been uncertain and slow at times.”
Jobe suggested the General Assembly consider greater state investment in natural resources and byways as one way to spur local tourism.
“There are millions and millions of dollars in unfunded projects that, if they were funded, could be year-round destinations for visitors to come from all over the country in the Midwest to enjoy,” he said.
He also proposed using federal recovery funds to create outdoor recreation investment zones, starting with Illinois state parks.
“Our state parks are critical to the economic success of many of our regions,” he said.
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2nd REDISTRICTING LAWSUIT: A second lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Illinois seeking to block the use of a redistricting plan that Democrats pushed through the General Assembly, this one by a group that represents Latin American communities.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of several individuals of Hispanic heritage.
“Illinois voters, including the growing Latino voter community, are entitled to districts that accurately reflect the population as determined by the constitutionally mandated decennial census,” MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas Saenz said in a statement. “Ultimately, the General Assembly will have to redraw lines for the 2022 elections using the proper decennial census data.”
The lawsuit is similar to one filed earlier in the week by House and Senate Republican leaders. It alleges that the use of American Community Survey population estimates, rather than actual census data, will produce districts of unequal size, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection clause.
“ACS data is not adequate to ensure the constitutional guarantee of one-person-one-vote,” said MALDEF attorney Francisco Fernandez-del Castillo in the statement. “Using the ACS estimates to draw district boundaries puts all Illinois voters — especially those in traditionally underrepresented communities, such as Latinos — at risk of being disenfranchised.”
The suit names Senate President Don Harmon, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the Illinois State Board of Elections and each of its individual members as defendants.
It asks the court to declare that the newly enacted maps violate the U.S. Constitution. It also asks for an injunction blocking election officials from certifying candidate petitions or conducting future elections using the new maps and for an order directing lawmakers to draw new maps using official census data in order to comply with the Constitution’s “one person, one vote” requirement.
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PHASE 5 BEGINS: Starting Friday, June 11, Illinois will be in Phase 5 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, meaning businesses and organizations can resume normal activity, although some limited restrictions will remain in place.
Under Phase 5 guidelines, capacity limits are being lifted for both indoor and outdoor activities while people who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear face coverings in most settings and businesses are no longer required to enforce mask mandates or maintain social distancing rules, although they may continue to do so if they choose.
People who have not been fully vaccinated are still encouraged to wear face coverings, and all people are still required to wear face coverings while traveling on public transportation, in congregate settings, in health care settings as well as in schools, day cares and educational institutions.
Those changes come 15 months after Gov. JB Pritzker first issued a disaster declaration in response to the pandemic which, as of Thursday, had infected nearly 1.4 million people in Illinois and claimed 23,014 lives.
Due to the wide availability of vaccines, which first became publicly available in January, new infections and hospitalization rates have reached their lowest points since the pandemic began.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Thursday that 68 percent of Illinois adults had received at least one dose of vaccine and 51 percent were fully vaccinated.
IDPH also reported Thursday that only 366 new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the previous 24 hours. That drove the seven-day average case positivity rate to just 1 percent, the lowest since the state started reporting daily test results.
As of late Wednesday night, 764 people in Illinois were reported to be hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 209 patients were in intensive care units, and 103 of those patients were on ventilators. That was the lowest number of hospital beds in use since the state began reporting the numbers as well.
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PRITZKER ON PANDEMIC: During an interview with Capitol News Illinois last week, Pritzker said that even though the state was ready to enter the final reopening phase, he was not yet prepared to lift the disaster proclamation he first issued on March 9, 2020, which has served as the legal basis behind scores of executive orders such as a ban on residential evictions and utility shutoffs. It has been extended monthly since that date.
“It's a new chapter, of course, in the pandemic but we aren't quite ready yet to remove the disaster declaration,” Pritzker said. “There are things that need to be ramped down and, you know, making sure of course that we actually are seeing continued decrease of cases and hospitalizations.”
Asked during his interview with CNI whether, in retrospect, he wished he would have handled things differently, Pritzker said he had to work with the information he had at the time.
“I can tell you that if I knew then what I know now, I'm sure I might have made some different decisions,” he said. “But that just wasn't something available to me. What we had was a novel coronavirus.”
Pritzker added that just a few days before he issued the stay-at-home order he received projections – a copy of which he said remains on his desk – that said if the state took no action, Chicago alone would see 20,000 deaths from COVID-19 by August of that year.
“So we had to make decisions quickly. We had to be decisive about it,” he said. “I needed to be transparent and communicate at 188 press conferences during the year 2020. And it was my job to not only give people the facts, but do that in the face of the president in Washington, D.C., who was lying to people about this. And I think people needed to hear from somebody, somebody that they would be willing to listen to, that they trust.”
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REDISTRICTING LAWSUIT: Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, June 9, challenging the constitutionality of the new legislative district maps that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law June 4.
They filed suit in U.S. District Court in Chicago, arguing that the maps are based on survey data rather than official U.S. Census numbers and therefore violate the U.S. Constitution’s “one person, one vote” requirement.
Official data from the 2020 census is not due for release until mid-August, which would have pushed lawmakers beyond the Illinois Constitution’s deadline of June 30 for the General Assembly to adopt maps before the process is turned over to a bipartisan commission.
So instead, House and Senate Democrats based the new maps on population estimates derived from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which Republicans and a number of voting rights advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters of Illinois and Illinois Common Cause, argued is not accurate enough to be used for redistricting.
Democratic leaders also said they used data from previous elections to determine the partisan tilt of each district.
The House and Senate approved new maps on Friday, May 26, less than 24 hours after the final drafts had been introduced. Pritzker signed them into law a week later, on June 4.
The lawsuit alleges that the maps violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which federal courts have frequently cited as the basis for requiring state legislative districts to be drawn so they are substantially equal in population.
That has generally meant that districts cannot vary in population by more than 10 percent between the largest and smallest districts, but variations of less than 10 percent have also been found unconstitutional if the lines are drawn in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.
The GOP leaders are asking the court to declare that the new maps violate the U.S. Constitution and for an injunction to prevent state officials from implementing the new maps.
In addition, they are asking that if valid maps are not adopted before the Illinois Constitution’s June 30 deadline, that the court either order the appointment of a bipartisan commission, as provided for in the Illinois Constitution, or appoint a special master to oversee the drafting of valid maps based on official 2020 census data.
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STATUE TASK FORCE: Members of the state’s task force on statues and monuments discussed ways to relocate the statue of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and improve the statue’s image in the context of King’s legacy in Illinois.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White testified Wednesday, June 9, during the task force hearing that the image of King reflected in the statue does not properly reflect one of the heroes of the civil rights movement. White met King dozens of times, including while White was a student at Alabama State University.
“It’s our duty to make sure that the statue properly reflects Dr. King's creation. And as I have said before, I am willing to devote $5,000 of my funds if we can get enough dollars, so that we can make a statue that will be a true representative of Dr. King,” White said Wednesday.
White said he intends to establish a fund for the purpose of redesigning King’s likeness and moving the sculpture from its current location across from the Capitol grounds.
The hearing Wednesday was the third meeting of the House Statue and Monument Review Task Force, which aims to conduct a review of monuments on state property and proposals for new monuments or statues.
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.