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CAPITOL RECAP: Welch becomes first Black speaker of Illinois House; Madigan steps aside

CAPITOL RECAP: Welch becomes first Black speaker of Illinois House; Madigan steps aside

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch made history Wednesday, Jan. 13, by becoming the first Black person elected speaker of the Illinois House, succeeding Rep. Michael Madigan, who leaves the job after serving for 36 of the past 38 years.

The House came into session Wednesday afternoon to begin the 102nd General Assembly just moments after it adjourned a rare lame duck session that ended the 101st biennial session.

Speaking on the floor of the Bank of Springfield Center – where the House has been meeting to allow for social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the Hillside Democrat issued a call for unity, vowing that he would no longer refer to other House members as “Democrats” or “Republicans.”

“Today will be the last time I talk about us as Democrats or Republicans because I want to talk about us being united,” Welch said in his inaugural speech. “We’re going to work together to move this state forward.”

Welch was elected speaker by a vote of 70-44 over House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. And while Durkin opened his remarks by saying he was “extending an olive branch of cooperation, starting today,” he then launched a verbal polemic against Madigan, who is leaving the speaker’s office amid a cloud of corruption allegations.

“While his reign as speaker is all but over, his decades in power will never be erased,” Durkin said. “What we have here through this unique and rare opportunity is the ability to break from the past, to break that business model, because they are as apparent as the masks on our face.”

Last summer, Durkin initiated the petition that forced the House to form a special investigating committee to probe Madigan’s role in a bribery scheme involving utility giant Commonwealth Edison and determine whether disciplinary actions should commence.

But it was Welch who chaired that committee and made sure it did not recommend disciplinary action.

Madigan, who on Monday announced he was suspending his bid to remain speaker, issued a statement Wednesday congratulating Welch as "speaker-elect" minutes before lawmakers were set to make the vote official. 

“As I prepare to pass the speaker’s gavel to a new generation of Democratic leadership, I want to thank the people of my district and the members of the House Democratic Caucus for the faith and trust they have placed in me over the years," Madigan said in the statement. "I want to thank my staff for their hard work on behalf of every member of this caucus. It has been the honor of a lifetime to help bring people of different experiences and backgrounds together to serve our state.

“It is time for new leadership in the House. I wish all the best for Speaker-elect Welch as he begins a historic speakership. It is my sincere hope today that the caucus I leave to him and to all who will serve alongside him is stronger than when I began. And as I look at the large and diverse Democratic majority we have built — full of young leaders ready to continue moving our state forward, strong women and people of color, and members representing all parts of our state — I am confident Illinois remains in good hands.”

* * *

MITIGATION TIER MOVEMENT: Nine of 11 regions in the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan have seen mitigations lifted in the past week, with two moving all the way back to Phase 4 restrictions.

The announcement came as hospitalizations and positivity rates continued to decline and the state launched a contracting effort to increase hospital staffing, adjusting the available bed metrics that determine mitigation levels.  

Region 3 in west-central Illinois and Region 5 in southern Illinois returned to Phase 4 mitigations, which precedes any of the tiers of added mitigations that have been in place since November.  

To enter Phase 4, test positivity rates must remain below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days, staffed hospital and ICU beds must reach 20 percent or higher for three consecutive days and there must be a sustained decline in COVID-19 patients in the hospital for 7 out of 10 days.

Region 1 in northern Illinois, Region 2 in north-central Illinois and Region 6 in east-central Illinois moved to Tier 1. These regions can now open indoor dining with limited capacity and restrictions in place.

Once a region moves into Tier 1 mitigations, indoor dining is allowed at a limited 25 percent capacity, indoor tables cannot exceed four people, reservations are required and establishments must be closed between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Although indoor bar service is allowed under Tier 1, it remains suspended unless food is being served at the establishment.

The requirements to move to Tier 1 include a test positivity rate below 8 percent for three consecutive days along with the same hospitalization metrics being met.

Region 8 in the west suburbs, Region 9 in the north suburbs, Region 10 in suburban Cook County and Region 11, which covers the city of Chicago, are all in Tier 2, meaning there is still no indoor dining allowed. They had a positivity rate under 12 percent for three days.

Region 4, which covers metro east Illinois, and Region 7, which covers south suburban Illinois, remain under Tier 3 mitigations. No indoor dining is allowed under Tier 3. 

Prior to Monday, eight of the state’s 11 mitigation regions remained under Tier 3 restrictions.

* * *

COVID-19 UPDATE: The state’s COVID-19 seven-day average case positivity rate dropped to 5.7 percent Tuesday, Jan. 19, the lowest it has been since Oct. 23.

The positivity rate peaked at 13.2 percent on a rolling average as of Nov. 13, and the entire state entered strict Tier 3 mitigations on Nov. 20. Since then the positivity rate has been on a continual downward trend except for the two weeks following Christmas day when it rose from just under 7 percent to over 8.5 percent before beginning to fall again.

Hospitalizations for the disease continued on a gradual downward arc as well, decreasing for the eighth week in a row as of Sunday night after peaking the week ending Nov. 22.

There were 3,335 people reported hospitalized for COVID-19 in Illinois as of Monday night, while there were 3,473 people hospitalized on average each night for the seven days prior. That marked a 7 percent decrease from the week prior and a 43 percent drop from its peak the week ending Nov. 22.

Intensive care unit beds have followed similar trends with 713 of them in use by COVID-19 patients Monday night and 728 in use on average each night for the seven days prior. That marked a 5.9 percent decrease from the week prior and a 40 percent decrease from the week ending Nov. 29, when there were 1,209 in use on average.

COVID-19 patients occupied 395 ventilators as of Monday night, or slightly more than the 389 that were in use on average the seven days prior. That number marked an 8 percent decrease from the week prior and a 44 percent decrease from the Nov. 29 peak.

Approximately 32 percent of staffable hospital beds and 29 percent of staffable ICU beds remained unused statewide.  That surge capacity had dropped to the high teens for ICU beds and low 20s for hospital beds in December.

Deaths related to COVID-19 have significantly dropped this week as well, although those numbers fluctuate daily and are lagging indicators of disease spread. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported another 33 deaths Tuesday after reporting 50 Monday and 29 Sunday.

The state had reported single-day death counts exceeding 100 for 17 of the past 30 days, and has not reported a death count this low in a three-day period since the end of October.

* * *

VACCINE UPDATE: The state has now reported over 1 million cases of the disease and 18,291 deaths since the pandemic first reached Illinois, with more than 14.8 million test results reported.

As of Tuesday night, Illinois had received over 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with 508,732 having been administered, although administrators have three days to report a vaccination once it has been conducted.

Of the doses received, 781,350 were delivered to providers and 304,600 doses have been allocated to the federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership Program for long-term care facilities. Of the doses administered, 69,976 have been part of the partnership program.

On average over the past week, the state administered 22,134 doses each day.

Gov. JB Pritzker’s office also announced the locations for four state-supported vaccination sites in Cook County Tuesday which will begin vaccinating individuals immediately.

They are in the municipalities of North Riverside, Robbins, Cicero and Ford Heights and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for health care workers who are part of Phase 1A before opening to those eligible for Phase 1B on January 25. More information is available at https://cookcountypublichealth.org/.

“Standing up these sites is a pivotal first step of a plan that coordinates our 97 local health departments statewide – who operate clinics already and will open up more as vaccine supply grows,” Pritzker said in a news release.   

Phase 1B will begin statewide on Jan. 25 with sites giving vaccinations to those eligible by appointment only, according to the governor’s office. All residents over the age of 65 and frontline essential workers can receive the vaccine as part of Phase 1B.

IDPH will also partner with large pharmacies to launch new sites in communities across Illinois, according to the governors office. The sites announced Tuesday are being stood up through support from the Illinois National Guard.   

Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, Jan. 15, said starting the week of Jan. 18 “and increasing over the coming several weeks,” the state will “be bringing online hundreds of vaccination sites across the state.

Those include retail pharmacy chain locations; Illinois National Guard mobile teams; state-run mass vaccination locations in northern; central and southern Illinois, hospitals and urgent care locations; and, in time, doctor’s offices and large employers who can host their own workplace clinics.

* * *

NEW COVID-19 VARIANT:  A new COVID-19 variant first discovered in the U.K. has been identified in Chicago. Vaccines are expected to still be effective against the new variant.

“Clearly some progress has been made to combat this virus across our regions,” Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday, Jan. 15. “But I want to stress that it's incredibly important for Illinoisans to not let their guard down. We have now formally identified the first Illinois case of the more contagious British variant. And on top of that there are new variants from Japan, South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil, that we also know a little bit about.”

According to a news release, the new U.K. strain was first identified in the U.S. two weeks ago in Colorado and has since been identified in several other states.

“Evidence suggests that this variant can spread more easily than most currently-circulating strains of COVID-19, but there is no evidence that the new strain affects the sensitivity of diagnostic tests or that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” according to the news release. “In addition, data suggest current vaccines will be effective and safe in providing protection against the variant.”

* * *

ORGANIZED SPORTS: Gov. JB Pritzker’s office on Friday, Jan. 15, noted organized sports can resume in Tier 2 under the guidance initially offered by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That means sports classified as “low risk,” such as baseball, track, cross country, gymnastics and swimming, will be allowed to participate in competitive intra-conference play in regions in Tier 2 or better.

Medium-risk sports including soccer and volleyball can participate in team scrimmages in those tiers, while high risk sports such as basketball, football, hockey and wrestling can participate in no-contact training.

* * *

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: The Illinois Senate passed a criminal justice omnibus bill early Wednesday morning, Jan. 13, after a grueling 20 hours of politicking during Tuesday’s lame duck session. The House followed suit Wednesday morning, clearing the way for the bill to head to the governor.

The legislation is made up of several provisions that touch all facets of the criminal justice system. The Pretrial Fairness Act, a longtime passion project to end cash bail in Illinois by Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, and a complete overhaul of police certification crafted by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul were both absorbed into the omnibus package.

The Senate met to debate the bill shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday before the measure passed 32-to-23 just before 5 in the morning, moving to the House floor. The House passed the measure before noon Wednesday with the minimum 60 votes needed for approval.

“Abraham Lincoln once said ‘Plant your feet in the right place and stand firm.’ We are standing firm,” Sen. Elgie Sims, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the bill, said in his closing speech before voting began. “We are fundamentally changing the way we do criminal justice in this state.”

Many of the most debated aspects, such as ending qualified immunity for law enforcement, were reduced or removed from the bill following heavy opposition from law enforcement, labor unions, prosecutors and municipal representatives.

Effective Jan. 1, 2023, all bail bonds and conditions of bail will be replaced by a system of pretrial release to be developed by the Illinois courts based on a detainee’s alleged crime, their risk of not appearing for their court date, and the threat or danger they may pose to the community if released.

According to the bill, the General Assembly intends to establish statewide use-of-force standards by 2022 while making changes to what are acceptable and unacceptable uses of force in Illinois statute.

The bill provides that use of force is permissible only when an officer has determined it is necessary to defend either themselves or others from bodily harm when making an arrest. When a suspect is attempting to escape, officers would not be permitted to use deadly force to stop them, unless that person cannot be apprehended at a later date and is likely to harm others.

One of the largest changes to the bill was the gutting of a provision that would have ended qualified immunity for officers, eliminating their protection from liability in civil suits if they violated rights guaranteed in the Illinois Constitution.

Instead, the legislation creates a yearlong Task Force on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, an 18-member body that will investigate and develop procedures to protect constitutional rights and remedies should those rights be violated. The task force will specifically look at qualified immunity as enjoyed by law enforcement.

A police certification provision backed by the attorney general’s office was also added to the bill. It gives the state more power over who can be a member of law enforcement and makes it easier to decertify and terminate the employment of problematic officers.

Under this new legislation, the Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act is amended so that all law enforcement agencies must eventually use body cameras.

The largest agencies must have body cameras in place by 2022, while all agencies, no matter how small, must have body cameras implemented by 2025.

The bill expands rights of people who are taken into custody by police. The state’s 1963 Code of Criminal Procedure is amended and modernized regarding phone calls.

* * *

CAPITOL SECURITY: While there have been no confirmed threats made against the Illinois Capitol, heightened security measures remain in place “out of an abundance of caution” after a quiet weekend in the capital city.

State officials said Monday, Jan. 18, it will remain that way until sometime after the Wednesday inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Following a riot at the U.S. capitol building on Jan. 6 and an FBI warning about possible armed protests around the nation in the lead-up to Biden’s inauguration, Gov. JB Pritzker activated 250 members of the Illinois National Guard Friday. Their task is to support law enforcement’s efforts to secure the city.

Pritzker said Friday there were no specific threats necessitating the activation, other than the FBI’s Jan. 11 warning about possible armed protests in all 50 states.

“There is a general threat,” Pritzker said Friday. “There are flyers that have been put around the internet to have armed protesters show up at all 50 state capitols, and there’s one particular flyer that has all 50 state capitol addresses essentially going to everybody they can reach out to.” 

All ground-floor windows and entrances at the Illinois Statehouse have been covered with plywood since Friday afternoon, while police closed surrounding streets to vehicle traffic over the weekend. Armored vehicles and uniformed soldiers were seen patrolling state buildings, including the Governor’s Mansion. The Guard troops are assisting the Illinois State Police, Secretary of State Police and Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

Fewer than five protestors who regularly attend events in Springfield without issue were seen on the Capitol Grounds Saturday, according to the State Journal-Register, and Henry Haupt, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said in a statement Monday there were no reported incidents over the weekend.

Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, a spokesman for the Illinois National Guard, said Monday that he expects troops to be on orders in support of law enforcement through the inauguration Wednesday.

“Beyond that, it is situation dependent,” Leighton said.

* * *

PRETRIAL INTEREST ON DAMAGES: The Illinois General Assembly last week pushed through legislation to allow victims in all personal injury and wrongful death cases to collect interest on money they were awarded by a court starting from the moment the alleged injury or death took place.

House Bill 3360 is meant to deter companies or individuals who are sued from intentionally stalling or delaying cases that would be successful at trial, according to the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association — a major lobbying force behind the bill. 

The bill sets prejudgment interest at 9 percent, the same rate used in Illinois for post judgment interest, which is collected in cases after the court issues a judgment award. The only prejudgment interest, under current Illinois law, is a 5 percent interest that applies to damages in specific cases that do not include personal injury or wrongful death cases.

Under HB 3360, prejudgment interest would not apply to municipalities facing personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. The interest would begin to accrue once the company or individual being sued “has notice of the injury from the time of the incident itself or a written notice,” the bill states. 

This means that the interest in these cases could begin to accrue before the injured party files a lawsuit in court.  

Opponents — including members of the Illinois Defense Counsel — argued the measure unfairly targets defendants, or those being sued, and criticized how the bill was passed quickly by both chambers with limited time for meaningful debate.

It passed with only Democratic support in each chamber. It needs only a signature from Gov. JB Pritzker to become law.

IDC, an organization serving the interests of defense lawyers, also lambasted the bill for allowing prejudgment interest to apply to noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, and future damages, such as future lost wages or medical expenses.

A group of IDC members wrote a letter to Pritzker last week, encouraging him to veto the bill.

Trial Lawyers Association President Larry Rogers Jr., an attorney who represents injured plaintiffs at Chicago-based Power Rogers LLP, said the bill intends to discourage litigation and encourage resolution. 

* * *

DECOUPLING BILL FAILS: House Democrats fell 10 votes short of passing a bill, endorsed by Gov. JB Pritzker, that would have eliminated certain tax deductions for Illinois business owners that were created under the federal CARES Act. Pritzker has argued this change by the legislature is needed to prevent revenues from shrinking by more than $500 million during the current fiscal year, thus enlarging the state’s $3.9 billion budget deficit.

Specifically, the bill would end the CARES Act amendments that expanded income deductions business owners can claim as net operating losses, carryback losses or excess business losses.

In a Jan. 8 news release, Pritzker encouraged the General Assembly to “decouple” Illinois’ tax law from the federal tax amendments under the CARES Act, an action that would have kept the state tax code consistent with previous years. 

Pritzker claimed those changes would have preserved $500 million in state tax revenue from noncorporate taxpayers and owners of pass-through entities, such as limited liability companies and partnerships. 

During House floor debate in the early hours of Jan. 13, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle described the bill as preserving up to $1 billion in state revenue.

Democratic Rep. Michael Zalewski, the bill’s sponsor, said the proposed changes would impact about 440,000 taxpayers statewide.

Ten House Democrats voted present while another eight did not vote on the bill, including former House Speaker Michael Madigan, of Chicago, and the newly elected Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside.

At least a dozen Republicans condemned the proposal as a last minute “tax hike” on small business owners already crushed by the pandemic. 

Zalewski characterized the proposal as an effort to prevent loss of revenue, rather than an effort to raise new revenue.

House Republicans were also critical that the Pritzker administration and the Illinois Department of Revenue did not notify taxpayers or the legislature sooner of the state’s plans to decouple from the federal changes that were made in March.

During a news conference on Friday, Pritzker said he expects the legislature will bring the proposal back in the 102nd General Assembly.

* * *

REMOTE VOTING FAILS: A bill which would have permitted the House and Senate to convene remotely and cast votes during a public health emergency did not pass both houses in the lame duck session.

It would have required both chambers to create rules for remote participation in session and committees, and it would have applied to the boards of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability and Legislative Audit Commission.

The Senate changed its rules during the brief May session to allow for remote hearings but the House failed to pass similar changes. Two lawmakers voted remotely in the lame duck session.

Both chambers released tentative calendars last week showing they are scheduled to meet in-person several days each month through May.

Since the pandemic hit Illinois in March of 2020, members of the House met briefly the following May and earlier this month at the Bank of Springfield Center, while the Senate continued at the Capitol for those brief sessions.

Multiple people that attended last week’s lame duck session – including the chief of staff to the House speaker’s office – have tested positive for COVID-19. The governor said last week he would not prioritize lawmakers in the next phase of vaccination.

* * *

OTHER BILLS FAIL: A vote-by-mail bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 40-18 but did not receive a vote in the House, would have made permanent some changes that were implemented in response to the pandemic for the 2020 general election. This would have included the use of drop-box sites to collect ballots without postage and curbside voting during early voting or on Election Day. 

It also would have required the State Board of Elections to provide guidance, rather than rules, for securing collection sites.

Meanwhile, House Bill 122, which would have added another round of 75 marijuana dispensary licenses among other actions, passed the Senate but did not receive a vote in the House as well.

Senate Bill 558, which was a wide-ranging bill consisting of several health care reforms backed by the Black Caucus, passed the House but did not receive a vote in the Senate.

 

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.

 

 

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The Capitol News Illinois team breaks down the General Assembly's lame duck session and the election of a new House speaker.

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