COVID-19 Update: On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 3,394 new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including 38 additional deaths. As of Wednesday night, 2,115 individuals in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 475 patients were in the ICU and 231 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators. Illinois’ 7-day statewide positivity rate stands at 3.5%. The Illinois Department of Public Health is resuming the use of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine following the announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they have lifted the previously recommended pause on the J&J vaccine. Governor J.B. Pritzker said he will soon revise his statewide mask mandate to align with new federal guidelines that say it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to go outdoors without face coverings in many situations except for crowded outdoor settings. Illinois’ current rules require masks outdoors in situations where people aren’t able to maintain at least six feet of distance, including at places like farmers markets, baseball stadiums and amusement parks.The growing number of vaccinated people has led to Chicago revising its Phase 4 COVID restrictions – meaning that festivals in the city will resume this summer and attendance limits will be upped at major league sporting events. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has indicated that the City may be inching toward use of a “Vax Pass” (vaccine passport) that individuals would have to present to access certain events and venues. Among aspects being explored to ensure legitimate proof of vaccination is the use of blockchain technology, similar to that employed by Bitcoin. Chicago also plans to entice younger people to get vaccinated by offering “incentives” through promotional groups. More on Chicago’s efforts here.
And while Governor Pritzker has said he will not require a “vaccine passport,” the Illinois Department of Public Health is exploring the possibility of a state-issued electronic certification for residents who are COVID vaccinated. The document would be used should individual venues and establishments require proof of vaccination for would-be attendees. The electronic certification would also help residents who have misplaced their CDC vaccination cards.
Pandemic Health Navigator Program: Special resources for Illinois regions that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic have been announced by Governor Pritzker. The new Pandemic Health Navigator Program (PHNP) has been rolled out, a collaboration among the Illinois Public Health Association, the Illinois Primary Health Care Association, and OSF Healthcare System. Some communities already have tapped the PHNP, which will operate everywhere in the state except Cook County. To support the new initiative, the Illinois Department of Public Health granted $60 million in funding to Regional Coordinators which will in turn either provide direct services to residents or arrange for sub-awarding through approved agencies (like the Federally Qualified Health Centers or community-based organizations). Most of the Regions (2 through 9) are being coordinated by the Illinois Public Health Association; OSF Healthcare System has purview over Region 1. The Pandemic Health Navigator Program is emphasizing the use of the public health system, including local health departments. Among the PHNP goals in the various regions are supporting contact tracing; ensuring all communities receive needed assistance; and working to reduce disparities in health outcomes. More info at www.HelpGuideThrive.org
Volkswagen Settlement: The multi-billion dollar federal Volkswagen settlement has positioned Illinois to provide a new funding opportunity and unveil an updated plan for spending its share of the settlement monies. The state is not only inviting applicants for $9 million in funds to electrify school buses (in Metro East and Chicagoland), but also is revamping its VW Beneficiary Mitigation Plan (BMP). About $89 million remains in Illinois’ BMP, and planned revisions to it will prioritize a greener transit sector by replacing old diesel engines with all-electric school buses, public transit, and infrastructure projects. The Illinois EPA will accept comments on the proposal through June 21, 2021. More info about the funding and grant opportunity here. The VW settlement is the outcome of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found the vehicle manufacturer violated the federal Clean Air Act by installing “defeat devices” in some diesel vehicles to circumvent detection of federal vehicle emission standards.
Manufacturing Training Academies: Preparing students for careers in advanced manufacturing will soon get a substantial boost. Illinois is establishing two downstate manufacturing training academies – one at Heartland Community College in Normal and the other at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) in Metro East. The state’s $15 million in funding will be supplemented by $4.95 million in commitments for capital projects. Heartland’s program will consist of a first-of-its-kind Electric Vehicle-Energy Storage training, while SWIC will be developing an Advanced Manufacturing Center slated for completion in fall 2022.
102nd GENERAL ASSEMBLY: The Illinois General Assembly met in Springfield for in-person session Tuesday, April 27th through Thursday, April 29th. This week’s agenda was much lighter compared to the long session days of last week. Most of the week was spent considering legislation at the committee level. Next week’s session activity is expected to increase with both chambers positioning more legislation for consideration at the committee level. Legislators have a lot left on their plate with only four weeks remaining in the Spring session. First and foremost, legislators must finalize the FY 22 operating budget as well as approving congressional and legislative maps as a part of the decennial redistricting process. Legislators also are discussing clean energy legislation, ethics reforms, and gaming proposals. Negotiations continue on a proposal to elect the Chicago School Board.
The Illinois Senate approvedHB 2877 (Ramierez/Aquino) which creates the COVID-19 Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program Act. The bill makes several changes including: the sealing of a court file in a residential eviction action; emergency sealing of a court file in a residential eviction action during the COVID-19 emergency and economic recovery period; and a temporary COVID-19 stay of certain foreclosure proceedings and filing. HB 2877 heads to the Governor’s desk.
The Illinois Senate passed SB 672 (Bush) which requires third party delivery service platforms — such as Doordash — to have an agreement with the restaurant in order to offer delivery services for that restaurant. The bill now heads to the House for consideration. The Senate also approved SB 525 (Aquino) which is the result of negotiations with AFSCME and CMS. The bill addresses who is covered by the Public Labor Relations Act and which employees are covered under the collective bargaining unit. SB 525 heads to the House for consideration. Legislation to make changes to the Local Government Revenue Recapture Act, SB 1138 (Hastings), passed the Senate. The bill is a trailer to SB 1881 passed last year. SB 1138 now heads to the House.
Redistricting: Redistricting committees continue to meet in the Illinois General Assembly. This week, the U.S.Census Bureau released apportionment population counts which indicate that Illinois will lose one of its 18 Congressional seats in the next remap. Under the Illinois constitution, a new map must be enacted by June 30th or the process will be sent to a bipartisan commission. If the commission cannot reach a consensus on a new map, a lottery will be held to determine which party would draw the new maps.
Budget: Budget makers received good news this week from Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. According to her, Illinois’ bill backlog now stands at just $3.5 billion — down from an all time high of $16.7 billion in 2017. The state will be nearing a 30-day payment cycle as the bill backlog closes in on $3 billion. Comptroller Mendoza credited the effort to diligent daily management of the state’s cash flow and steady revenue receipts, even during the pandemic. The remaining $3.5 billion includes interfund transfers owed to other branches of government, group health insurance bills with limited appropriation authority, and invoices at state agencies that have not yet been forwarded to the Comptroller for payment. Appropriations committees in both chambers are continuing to review agency budgets and discuss revenue projections for the upcoming fiscal year which starts July 1st.
Clean Energy Legislation: The Pritzker Administration shared its priorities for clean energy legislation with stakeholders at a meeting on Wednesday. The Governor’s press release is here. The Governor’s bill summary is here. The Governor’s fact sheet is here. The Illinois General Assembly created the Lake Shore Caucus, composed of members who represent the Lake Michigan shoreline. Representative Kam Buckner will chair the new effort, whose mission is to develop solutions and to help protect the shores of Lake Michigan.
COMING UP:The Illinois General Assembly will reconvene on Tuesday, May 4th at noon. May 14th is the deadline to pass substantive legislation out of committee in the opposite chamber. A little over four weeks remain in the spring session.