COVID-19: On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 8,828 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including 181 additional deaths. Labs reported 92,015 test results. As of Wednesday night, 4,751 in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 1,056 patients were in the ICU and 575 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.
The preliminary seven-day statewide case positivity is 8.4%. The preliminary seven-day test positivity is 10.0%.
The State of Illinois, the City of Chicago and four local health departments (Cook County Department of Public Health, Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, Madison County Health Department, and St. Clair County Health Department) received the first shipment of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. These direct shipments account for the state’s initial expected allocation of 109,000 doses – 23,000 to the city of Chicago and 86,000 for the rest of Illinois. Initial vaccination of healthcare workers began Tuesday, December 15th. On Wednesday, Governor Pritzker announced Illinois will receive about half the anticipated shipment of the Pfizer vaccine going forward. Pritzker attributed the change to decisions made at the federal level.
Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network: Illinois launched a new initiative, the Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network, to expand digital access for low-income households throughout the state. The Network — which is a partnership with PCs for People, Cook County, and numerous other community partners — aims to put 20,000 computers and other mobile devices into the hands of Illinois residents. This will assist families with access to high speed Internet that is essential for e-learning, remote work, telehealth and more.
With the intent to expand the network, the Governor is asking public, private and philanthropic sectors to donate used equipment to the efforts. For more information on how to recycle technology or to apply for an upgraded device, please visitIllinois.gov/computerequitynetwork.
Executive Orders:Executive Order 2020-74 Reissues most executive orders, extending a majority of the provisions through January 9, 2021.
Budget Update: Governor Pritzker announced over $700 million in cuts to state agencies, an action that does not require approval of the General Assembly. Calling this a “first step,” Pritzker plans to work with the Legislature to address the remaining budget shortfall. He is also in discussions with AFSCME, the state’s largest employee union, about possible furlough days and other cost adjustments intended to save $75 million. Overall, about 10% of the budget cuts will be seen in the public safety sector — with a significant amount affecting the Department of Corrections. Guiding additional cost-cutting decisions for IDOC will be the Governor’s recently announced Illinois Corrections Transformation Advisory Team.
The Governor is continuing the freeze on travel and non-essential state hires, and will delay a planned January 1 rate increase for the Community Care Program by three months. Further cost savings are expected from a freeze on grant programs in the Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Commerce and Community Affairs (including parks and open lands grants), as well as in the school maintenance grants dependent on casino revenue. Pritzker is calling on the General Assembly, particularly Republican leaders who opposed the “Fair Tax,” to identify budgetary cuts and other solutions to manage the state’s budget shortfall. Republican leaders pushed back against the assertion that the budget shortfall is their fault, instead blaming the Democratic majorities and Governor for passing an “unbalanced” budget. House Speaker Michael Madigan told his members he stands by his pledge to protect the state’s most vulnerable constituencies. In keeping with that promise, he will be forming an advisory group to review the Governor’s recently proposed cuts and advise how future budget making decisions will affect various constituencies. President Harmon indicated voters expect tough decisions to be made and he is prepared for another tough budget year.
A bicameral group of eight Democratic Legislators are urging Governor Pritzker and the General Assembly to close corporate tax loopholes to preserve education, healthcare and other essential community services. The exact “tax loopholes” were not identified.
Minimum Wage Increase: Those earning minimum wage in Illinois will receive a $1/hour increase on January 1, 2021, bringing the minimum wage to $11/hour. The pay boost results from a 2019 law which raises the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025.
Gubernatorial Appointments: Chad Hays will serve on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.
SECRETARY OF STATE:Jim Burns, Inspector General for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, passed away unexpectedly. A replacement has not been named.
Alleging that Google illegally maintains a monopoly over general search engines and related advertising, Attorney General Kwame on Thursday joined a bipartisan coalition of 38 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the tech titan. The coalition asserts that Google: uses practices that limit potential rivals from being able to reach consumers; continuously yields results that favor advertising on its own platform (thereby inflating profits and undermining advertisers and consumers); and impairs specialized search sites (like for home repair or travel services) so as to help protect Google’s revenues and dominant position. The coalition also alleges that Google’s monopoly is shored up by its acquisition and use of data — much of it obtained because consumers do not enjoy a choice in search engines.
Raoul joined a coalition of attorneys general this week on another matter as well: to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hold pharmaceutical manufacturers accountable for unlawfully denying price discounts to federally qualified health centers, hospitals, and other providers to vulnerable populations. The coalition is urging HHS to enforce and regulate the 340B Drug Pricing Program, through which cost discounts are provided to health care entities serving uninsured and low-income patients. In a letter, the 28 attorneys general assert to HHS that by withholding (or threatening to withhold) the price discounts, low income patients are at risk of losing medications from drug manufacturers Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Sanofi, Novartis, Merck, United Therapeutics, and others. HHS requires that drug manufacturers wishing to have their products covered by Medicaid and Medicare Part B must sign Pharmaceutical Pricing Agreements (PPAs). The PPAs limit, for health care entities serving vulnerable patients, the drug costs that must be paid to the pharmaceutical corporations. According to the coalition of attorneys general, the drug firms cited above have unlawfully refused to provide the discounts. The issue is made that much more egregious, says the coalition, because it comes at a time when the nation is already grappling with the public health care crisis of COVID-19.
101st GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
The House Special Investigating Committee met on Monday, December 14th, in what turned out to be its last meeting. The bipartisan Committee — consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans — was formed at the request of House Republicans who accused Speaker Madigan of “conduct unbecoming a legislator.” After meeting three times and taking testimony from one witness, a Democratic member called a motion to charge Speaker Madigan, which failed along party lines. Madigan, who has not been charged with criminal activity, issued a letter denying any wrongdoing. Republican attempts to subpoena Madigan to appear before the Committee to answer questions also failed along party lines. In his closing comments, Chairman Welch called the committee “a joke” and said the “joke ends today.”
102nd GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
The Illinois Senate announced that the chamber will consolidate the Appropriations Committees into one Appropriation Committee with 14 subcommittees that will have jurisdiction over individual state agencies. Senator Elgie Sims will chair the Senate Appropriation Committee.
Representative Kam Buckner was elected to serve as the Chair of the House Legislative Black Caucus.
Representative Kelly Burke is poised to run for mayor of Evergreen Park when that current officeholder retires next spring. Burke, who became a village trustee in 2019, has been the Democratic State Representative for the 36th district for the last decade.
The Senate State Government Committee will hold a virtual hearing on December 18th at 10 a.m. to discuss the operational update from the Illinois Department of Corrections on mittimus processing, education, and COVID-19.
The 102nd General Assembly is sworn into office on January 13th at noon.