CAPITOL RECAP: Legislators unveil bill to keep ethylene oxide emissions away from ‘densely populated regions’
Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, speaks during a news conference Friday, Sept. 13, in Chicago to unveil legislation to phase out emissions of ethylene oxide in densely populated areas and near schools or day cares by 2022. “It will prevent cancer and lead to better health outcomes in our communities,” Walling said. (Credit: Illinois Environmental Council)
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS
SPRINGFIELD — A coalition of advocacy groups and lawmakers from both parties unveiled a bill Friday, Sept. 13, that would phase out emissions of a cancer-causing gas in densely populated areas and near schools or day cares by 2022.
The measure, House Bill 3888, was announced at a Chicago news conference and is the latest step in a highly publicized series of legislative and advocacy efforts to regulate or ban the use of ethylene oxide in Illinois. Ethylene oxide is a gas used in sterilization and manufacturing processes that has been linked to higher cancer rates in communities surrounding the companies that use it.
Sponsored by Waukegan Democratic Rep. Rita Mayfield, the bill provides that by 2021, no sterilization company can use ethylene oxide within five miles of a region with a population density of at least 10 residents per square mile, or within the same distance from a school or day care.
Hospitals that use the gas in sterilization processes would have to meet the same requirements by January 2022, while critical access hospitals would have until 2025.
Hospitals and sterilization facilities outside of dense areas and not within range of a day care or school would be allowed to emit no more than 30 pounds of ethylene oxide annually.
The ethylene oxide emitter in the state with the highest profile is Sterigenics, a medical supply sterilization company in the DuPage County suburb of Willowbrook. The company began facing backlash for its ethylene oxide emissions in August 2018, when the public learned of an increased cancer risk in the surrounding area. The IEPA issued a seal order in February preventing it from using the gas.
State Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican, represents Willowbrook and has sponsored several bills aimed at keeping Sterigenics closed.
“This is a dangerous cancer-causing agent, and as we’ve learned more we realized the emission of ethylene oxide in an area where people breathe is wrong,” he said at the news conference Friday. “Through the study that has taken place in the last 13 years, we have tragically seen increased elevated cancer rates around Willowbrook due to ethylene oxide coming from Sterigenics. It’s time that this ends.”
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SUPREME COURT DAY: High school and college students in the Metro East area got a rare chance to see the Illinois Supreme Court in action Wednesday, Sept. 18, when the court traveled to the campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to hear two cases.
John Lufton, who directs the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, explained at the outset that it’s something the court has done periodically for the past five or six years. He described it as “riding the circuit,” a phrase that harkens back to Illinois’ early years when judges would travel from town to town within their circuit to hear cases.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the court and for the people that are here,” Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier said in an interview with Capitol News Illinois before the hearing. “In fact, my old high school has been invited to have students here, and the high school where my granddaughters attend is here. It’s a great opportunity for the students that are here.”
For those who attended Wednesday’s session, it was also a chance to learn about the difficulties of adapting the state’s legal system, including both criminal and civil law, to the internet age.
Karmeier said the practice of sending the court on the road once in a while helps elevate the profile of a branch of government that often doesn’t get the same kind of publicity as the legislative or executive branches.
“When people know, I think they have less fear of the branch and what we do,” he said. “When we cloak ourselves in secrecy, I think they wonder about it, so this is an opportunity for everyone.”
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INTERNET ACCESS CASE: The Supreme Court on Wednesday, Sept. 18, heard oral arguments in a case that pertains to a convicted sex offender and his access to the internet.
Conrad Allen Morger was convicted of sexually abusing a minor and sentenced to four years of probation by a court in McLean County. That came with a mandatory condition he not use specific internet sites.
His representative in oral arguments, Zachary Rosen, said that ban on social networks — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, for example — is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment fundamental right to freedom of speech.
In a court document, Morger’s attorneys called barring access to the internet “draconian.”
The attorney general’s office says those on probation have limited liberties, and those limits last only as long as their sentence.
Joshua Schneider, the state’s representative, said legislators added the mandatory probation condition because the state has an interest in protecting the public from sex offenders who are reintegrating into society.
Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, submitted a brief to the court in support of Morger’s case. In a phone interview earlier this week, she said those on probation cannot reintegrate into society without social media. Such websites serve as a hub for spaces to discuss current events, culture, religion and family, she added.
The case was one of two heard at Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey to “raise the profile of the judicial branch,” Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier said before the event.
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FANTASY SPORTS LAWSUIT: Colin Dew-Becker and Andrew Wu competed in a fantasy sports contest in April 2016 through the website FanDuel. They paid $109 each — a $100 wager and $9 fee to the company. Wu’s NBA fantasy team scored almost double the points Dew-Becker’s team did, making him the winner.
Three days later, Dew-Becker filed a lawsuit to recover his bet. Under a centuries-old Illinois law known as the Loss Recovery Act, those on the losing end of an illegal wager have a legal avenue to get their money back.
The question before the Supreme Court, in this case, is whether that avenue exists when gambling is conducted through a third-party digital fantasy sports website such as FanDuel. The court heard oral arguments Wednesday, Sept. 18, in Godfrey.
Benton Ring, Dew-Becker’s representative before the court, argued the Loss Recovery Act has no exclusions for such websites. Members of the General Assembly would have added them if that was their intent, he said in a court document.
“That the legislature chose not to do so is plain evidence that it intended for sites such as FanDuel to be included, or at least not excluded,” he wrote.
But William Gantz, Wu’s representative before the court, told the justices that this straight reading of the act — not taking into account its authors could not have imagined the invention of such technology — “could result in millions of cases.”
“This test case seeks a green light for a cottage industry in Illinois — lodging hundreds of thousands of claims against unsuspecting citizens who have been engaging in online (daily fantasy sports) contests in Illinois for at least over a decade,” he wrote in a court document.
The Loss Recovery Act dates back to 1819, according to court documents, one year after Illinois became a state and 40 years before the Civil War. Gantz added it was meant to apply only to bettors who knew each other directly and who were located physically in Illinois.
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INSULIN PRICES: Ten years ago, Megan Blair was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“I remember standing at the pharmacy counter with my mom,” she said. “When the pharmacist rang up the prescription, he let us know that the 30-day supply of insulin that I needed would be about $800. I looked at my mom and my mom looked at me.”
Blair, who is now 27 and lives in Harristown, about eight miles west of Decatur, is one of an estimated 1.3 million people in Illinois coping with diabetes, as well as the high cost of keeping it under control.
“Come to find out that the fact that I was diagnosed as a Type 1 insulin-dependent person wouldn’t be the hardest battle I would have to face the rest of my life,” she said. “Trying to make a living, have a family and learn how to come up with $800 a month on insulin to keep me alive would actually be the biggest challenge of my life.”
Blair spoke Tuesday, Sept. 17, at a news conference in Springfield surrounded by Democratic state lawmakers who are pushing for a bill that would bring down the out-of-pocket cost for insulin for many, but not all, diabetes patients in Illinois.
“The cost of insulin clearly is breaking families that we represent,” said state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, one of the main sponsors of a bill that would cap the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply.
“Ultimately what has to happen is our Congress and our president have to act on the runaway cost of pharmaceutical drugs,” Manar said. “Senate Bill 667 (Amendment 1), we hope, addresses an issue immediately in Illinois and serves as a stepping stone to a larger reform.”
Manar and fellow-Democrat Rep. Will Guzzardi, of Chicago, introduced the language of the bill in late May, and they hope to see it passed during the upcoming veto session that begins Oct. 28.
Senate Bill 667 would not lower the cost of insulin for all patients in Illinois. It would apply only to those on publicly-funded health plans – primarily Medicare, Medicaid and the state employee health plan.
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CENSUS OFFICE: Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced the appointment of two census co-coordinators Monday, Sept. 16, a position created by an executive order he signed in June to maximize participation in the 2020 U.S. Census.
State officials say up to two congressional seats and more than $1 billion in federal funding are at stake in Illinois if the complete population is not counted in 2020. That’s why the General Assembly allocated $29 million in state funding to an outreach effort that will be led by the newly created Census Office within the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Pritzker announced the co-coordinators of that office will be Marishonta Wilkerson, who has been serving in the role since August after more than two years as assistant counsel to Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Oswaldo Alvarez, who has more than 10 years of program implementation experience in the nonprofit sector.
“The 2020 census will determine if Illinois gets our fair share of federal resources and representation, and these outstanding leaders will be committed to ensuring a complete and accurate count,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a news release Monday. “With a $29 million investment and a new Census Office, the state of Illinois will fight against the fear tactics coming from the federal government and make known that we’re proud to be home to vibrant, thriving communities of all backgrounds.”
At the June signing of the Executive Order 10, which created the Census Office, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said Illinois could lose $120 million annually for each 1 percent of the population that is undercounted – about $1.2 billion over the 10-year period between each census.
Illinois’ outreach effort will center on partnerships with community groups that are already working to promote census turnout. The deadline for those groups to apply for grants was Friday, Sept. 13.
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CHICAGO CASINO: The Illinois Gaming Board said Monday, Sept. 16, that state lawmakers need to change a law they enacted earlier this year if they ever hope to see a casino developed in the city of Chicago.
That vote came in response to a feasibility study released in August that said such a casino would not be feasible given the “onerous tax and fee structure” that lawmakers imposed.
At its regular monthly meeting in Chicago, the board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution stating that, “based on results of the study as required by the Illinois Gambling Act, the board recommends that the General Assembly consider making modifications to the terms of the Chicago casino license authorized under the Illinois Gambling Act.”
Before lawmakers passed a massive gambling expansion bill this year, Illinois allowed up to only 10 “riverboat” casinos. Those casinos pay taxes to the state ranging from 15 percent to 50 percent of their “adjusted gross receipts.”
Under the gambling expansion bill enacted this year, lawmakers authorized six more land-based casinos, including one in Chicago. However, according to the bill, in addition to the taxes and fees that all casinos pay, the Chicago casino would be required to pay an additional 33.3 percent “privilege tax.”
That would bring the effective tax rate on a Chicago casino to roughly 72 percent, the report stated.
“To the extent a casino operator could pare down expenses and realize modest revenue and profits from non-gaming amenities … total enterprise profit margin would, in a best-case scenario, likely equate to a few pennies on the dollar – and that would require the casino to be developed without incurring any debt as we believe no traditional financing would be available for such a development as debt servicing would likely well exceed any modest profits generated,” the report stated.
The report was written by the consulting firm Union Gaming Analytics and it was delivered to the Gaming Board Aug. 12. The board then forwarded copies to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislative leaders.
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BACK PAY LAWSUIT: Illinois’ chief fiscal officer has a “clear duty” to pay lost wages to all members of the General Assembly affected by two statutes a Cook County judge ruled were unconstitutional, the attorney for two former Democratic state senators wrote in a court filing.
One law freezing cost-of-living increases and another implementing furlough days violated Illinois’ governing document because they altered legislators’ wages during terms for which they were elected, Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama decided in July.
Now, two former lawmakers who voted in favor of both statutes — Michael Noland, from Elgin, and James Clayborne, Jr., from Belleville — are asking the judge to compel Comptroller Susana Mendoza to issue back pay. If successful, the order could cost Illinois just under $13 million.
Michael Scotti III, their attorney from the Chicago-based firm Roetzell & Andress, sent a letter in late July asking the comptroller to begin releasing payments. It went unanswered, he wrote in a court document.
In the letter, he argued that because the two laws were deemed to violate Illinois’ Constitution, “the comptroller is obligated to pay the members of the General Assembly during the relevant years, including [Noland and Clayborne], the salary unconstitutionally withheld for the furlough days and the COLAs.”
The former was effective from 2009 through 2013 and the latter from July 2009 through June 2018.
A legislator’s base pay was $67,836 until this year, when the General Assembly allowed the first cost-of-living increase to go into effect since 2008. That salary increased by $1,600.
The attorney general’s office argued in a court document last month, in part, that Mendoza should not have to pay Noland, Clayborne or any other lawmaker back pay because next fiscal year’s budgeting process is complete and no funding has been allocated for that expense.
“I think the arguments have just begun over whether legislators can make big election-year speeches about voting to turn down a raise, issue re-election news releases touting their selflessness in turning down a raise; then years later shamelessly file a lawsuit to force taxpayers to retroactively pay them $10 million for raises they turned down to get re-elected,” Mendoza said in an emailed statement. “These hypocrites don’t deserve a penny.”
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