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Afternoon Roundup

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Governor Pritzker kicked off his statewide tour detailing the budget. State Journal-Register

Gov. JB Pritzker at the University of Illinois-Springfield Student Union touted the budget, now awaiting his signature, as including several line items for construction projects on campus and increases investment into the Monetary Award Program by $100 million. Fiscal year 2024, starting in July, will have $701 million in total investment into program — a 75% increase since the beginning of the Pritzker administration. […]

“With this new budget we’re making it possible for nearly every student from a low, moderate or middle-income family to go to community college tuition free,” Pritzker said, kicking off a statewide tour detailing the budget. “Getting a college or university degree shouldn’t strap you in debt for the rest of your life.”

Rep. Mike Coffey, R-Springfield, was also in attendance and expressed support for several appropriations and reappropriations heading towards UIS.

He and all other Republicans in both chambers, however, voted against the budget. Coffey’s reasons for his ‘no’ vote were namely due to another increase to state legislator pay and feeling left-out on budget negotiations with the super-majority party.

* An update of an earlier post

* Last day folks…

TODAY, May 31st is the deadline to apply for the vacancy in the 1st District of the Cook County Board of Commissioners created by the resignation of Mayor Brandon Johnson. Democratic Oak Park Township Committeeman Don Harmon released details on this process May 17th.

All registered voters residing in the district are eligible to submit an application via email at firstdistrictvacancy@gmail.com.

As a reminder, Mayor Johnson announced his resignation from the Cook County Board on May 13th, 2023 thus creating a vacancy to be filled by the elected Committee members of the Cook County Townships and Chicago Wards that comprise the 1st District. As the Committeeman with the highest number of “weighted votes,” Harmon will serve as the Chair of the proceedings.

“We welcome all applicants from the 1st District to serve the people of Cook County,” said Chair Don Harmon. “Anyone interested in applying to our committee for the appointment should submit a resume and a short cover letter signifying their interest and qualifications before the end of today,” he concluded. […]

After the application period is closed, the election committee may narrow the field of applicants and set a date and time for in-person interviews. Upon completion of interviews and deliberation, the committee will vote on the appointment of the new commissioner. A vote of the majority of the weighted votes will determine the appointee.

* Crain’s on that other budget

It looks like Illinois congressmen will be all over the map on the big debt extension bill, with a House vote now set for this afternoon.

Absolutely no one on either side of the aisle is saying they like the pact between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Perhaps that signals it’s a good deal. Whether or not you agree, passage will depend on how many votes the measure gets from the political center, with hard-right conservatives and way-left progressives peeling off. […]

Among Illinois reps who have so far expressed an opinion in an an interview, statement or online — some are still keeping mum — there is one sure “no” vote. That’s from downstate conservative Mary Miller. […]

“I have serious concerns,” particularly about but not limited to food stamps and work requirements, Ramirez said in a statement. Beyond that, reclaiming unspent COVID relief money could have a “tremendous” impact on Illinois, and changes in environmental permitting will potentially worsen pollution. Ramirez said she’ll decide after reviewing the fine print of the deal.

* Block Club Chicago

After four years of barricades, ID checks and protests, Lori Lightfoot’s neighbors have their block back.

Lightfoot’s security detail, which reportedly totaled more than 70 officers, was slashed earlier this month after Brandon Johnson was sworn in as mayor, marking the end of what some neighbors called “Fort Lori.”

The Chicago Police Department conducted a “needs assessment” of Lightfoot’s detail and “adjusted resources to meet current demands,” police spokesman Don Terry said. Terry didn’t answer further questions, including how many officers were pulled. […]

Liz said she and other neighbors were so ecstatic to be rid of the large security detail — and the restrictions that came along with it — that they had a celebratory champagne toast when the block cleared out.

* Which brings me to this Sun-Times story. No word if Mayor Johnson’s security detail were involved but his name was in the headline

A neighbor of Mayor Brandon Johnson is accused of beating and stabbing a woman so many times over the weekend that a worker for the Cook County medical examiner’s office remarked he had “never seen so many injuries on someone’s body,” prosecutors said in court Tuesday.

Arnel Smith, 64, was charged with first-degree murder and concealment of a homicide after the woman’s body was found early Saturday in an alley behind Smith’s home in the 5700 block of West Superior Street.

The 41-year-old woman, whose name hasn’t been released, was beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed with shards of broken pottery, Assistant State’s Attorney Anne McCord Rodgers said.

Smithknew the woman before crossing paths with her Friday night at a Citgo gas station near Chicago and Hamlin avenues, Rodgers said. The two went back to Smith’s home where they used drugs, she said.

* Here’s the roundup…

    * WBEZ | Chicago City Council approves $51 million in aid for migrants after racially-heated debate: Dueling boos and cheers rang out each time members of the public spoke in support of the funding Wednesday. The meeting paused shortly as shouts from the public were so loud and boisterous, they overtook the proceedings that Mayor Brandon Johnson struggled to reel in. The debate was at times racially-charged as alderpersons and residents spoke out about where the city dedicates resources.

    * Triibe | Support for asylum seekers builds despite pushback: The shuttered Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn has been used as a shelter for asylum seekers since the beginning of February. As of April 25, the total number of people sheltered at Wadsworth was 496, with 428 of them being males and sixty-eight being females. This solution was not without pushback from Alds. Jeanette Taylor (20th), Michelle Harris (8th), nor many of their constituents. Taylor said she was never informed by the Lightfoot administration that it would be setting up an encampment there. Taylor said she asked for a conversation back in October, shortly after buses full of asylum seekers sent from Texas sent by Gov. Greg Abbott began arriving in Chicago, but she never received one.

    * American Independent | The dark money funding conservative anti-trans groups: The donors identified by the American Independent Foundation as major supporters of the anti-trans groups profiled in this story are among the most powerful and wealthy on the American right: Leonard Leo, the conservative judicial activist who helped former President Donald Trump pick his Supreme Court nominees and who controls a billion-dollar funding apparatus; Richard Uihlein, the GOP megadonor who has bankrolled far-right and election-denying candidates; and members of the Koch donor network of nonprofit political organizations spearheaded by the conservative billionaire Charles Koch and his late brother, David.

    * WICS | Summer months see more crime and assault in central Illinois: “With the hot weather, people tend to drink more. We have a lot of factors that go into play here where the crime rates are going to rise across the board. Especially in assaults where you have more interaction with people,” said Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell. In 2021 and 2022, Decatur saw an average of 59 aggravated assault cases per month for nine months of the year.

    * Axios | Why TikTok wants its new data privacy trial held in Illinois: The company has requested that the new lawsuits, which accuse TikTok of accessing user data through third-party websites on the app’s browser, be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It’s the same courtroom where a judge approved a $92 million class-action settlement that sent $167 checks to users in 2022. […] “TikTok is now coming back to the Northern District to ask if these new claims are covered by the $92 million settlement.”

    * WIFR | Rockford mayor unfazed by protestors during 6th State of the City Address: Protestors delayed the start of the speech by five minutes but the mayor seemed unfazed, touting what he calls improvements made to better the Forest City. […] He cited other accomplishments during his tenure including making water safe by replacing lead pipes, bringing more businesses to the area and implementing more sidewalks and streetlights into neighborhoods.

    * Tribune | Cook County program touted as one of the ‘top eviction prevention innovations’ has drawn praise, pushback: But the innovation has brought additional challenges. Before the pandemic, it could take just a few weeks for a tenant to be evicted. Now it takes at least a couple of months. The slowdown, tenants’ attorneys argue, is necessary to ensure that everyone, including landlords, gets the help that they need. But the extra time leads to financial distress for property owners, argue landlords’ attorneys.

    * WBEZ | Outdoor dining program could become permanent: The City Council’s License Committee unanimously advanced Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plan to make permanent an al fresco dining program that helped many restaurants and bars survive during the pandemic.

    * Jen walling | What Illinois can do since Supreme Court gutted federal protection of wetlands, waterways: You may not immediately see the impacts, but they will soon be felt by all of us. Stormwater displaced by the loss of wetlands that would normally absorb excess water must go somewhere. Certainly, some will find a way into our streets, homes, and businesses. Wetlands are an invaluable natural resource. They reduce flooding, filter out pollutants from water, provide habitat for a host of endangered species, and help reduce climate-warming carbon in our atmosphere. In Illinois, more than 85% of our wetlands have already been lost to development, according to the Illinois State Water Plan. Remaining wetlands are already suffering decreased biodiversity and an influx of difficult-to-control invasive species.

    * Tribune | Former Chicago cop charged with pinning Park Ridge teen to the ground last summer to stand trial Monday: Almost a year after he was charged for wrestling a young Park Ridge teen face down on a sidewalk in Park Ridge’s Uptown area, former Chicago Police Department Sergeant Michael Vitellaro will stand trial June 5, according to court records.

    * Crain’s | Johnson looks for more legislative wins at special City Council meeting: Last week, at Johnson’s first full City Council meeting, Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, and Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st, used a parliamentary maneuver to block a vote on the $51 million, which is being taken from a 2021 revenue surplus and meant to fund the city’s response through June. In response, Johnson and his allies called a special meeting for Wednesday to hold the vote. The ordinance is expected to easily be approved.

    * AP | Earth is ‘really quite sick now’ and in danger zone in nearly all ecological ways, study says: The study by the international scientist group Earth Commission published in Wednesday’s journal Nature looks at climate, air pollution, phosphorus and nitrogen contamination of water from fertilizer overuse, groundwater supplies, fresh surface water, the unbuilt natural environment and the overall natural and human-built environment. Only air pollution wasn’t quite at the danger point globally.

    * Sun-Times | 11 people wounded over 3 hours in Chicago, mostly in neighborhoods that have been more violent this year: No arrests were reported in any of the attacks. Homicides and shootings across the city are down from last year, with homicides by 6% and shootings by 5%, according to police data, But most of Tuesday night’s shootings were in districts that have seen a rise in homicides or shootings or both.

    * ABC Chicago | Cook County minimum wage set for increase on July 1: The minimum wage will go up to $13.70 an hour for non-tipped workers and $8 an hour for workers who earn tips. The minimum wage increases each year according to a formula set by a county ordinance.

    * WSIL | Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch Kicks off Pride Month with a Celebration for all on June 1: The event will feature performers from Chicago’s legendary Baton Show Lounge. It’s hosted by some of Illinois’ greatest advocates for LGBTQ rights including: Associate Regional Communications Director at Sierra Club, Precious Brady-Davis; 14th District State Representative Kelly Cassidy; former House Majority Leader Greg Harris; Democratic Party of Dupage County Chair Ken Mejia-Beal; Alderman Lamont Robinson of Chicago’s 4th District; and Director of Public Policy at Equality Illinois, Mike Ziri.

    * WCIA | Illinois State Fair box office opens Thursday: Regular box office hours include 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, August 5, officials reported. Tickets are also available to purchase online.

    * Crain’s | Tribune Publishing owner to pay nearly $100,000 in settlement with union: New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital has settled an unfair-labor-practice complaint, resulting in nearly $100,000 to be paid out to members of the Chicago Tribune Guild. Alden, which owns the paper’s parent, Tribune Publishing, will disperse individual payments to union members who were on Tribune medical insurance plans in 2022. That includes people no longer employed by the company, according to an email from the CT Guild.

    * Block Club | As Lori Lightfoot’s Large Security Detail Shrinks, Her Logan Square Neighbors Say ‘It Feels Like A Normal Block Again’: Liz said she and other neighbors were so ecstatic to be rid of the large security detail — and the restrictions that came along with it — that they had a celebratory champagne toast when the block cleared out.

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Roundup: Chicago City Council approves $51 million for migrant aid

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

    * Sun-Times | Divided City Council approves $51 million in migrant crisis funding: A divided City Council agreed Wednesday to slap a $51 million Band-Aid on Chicago’s burgeoning migrant crisis after a cathartic and racially-charged debate that reduced one member to tears. The 34-to-13 vote will provide enough funding to carry Chicago only through June 30.

    * Tribune | City Council approves $51 million for migrants as officials scramble for more funds, point fingers: Moore, 17th, opened the discussion by urging a “No” vote because his majority-Black ward has suffered with dilapidated field houses and seniors becoming homeless because of long public housing waitlists. He argued that during his community needs to put its oxygen “mask” on first. “The soul of Chicago is somewhat on trial today regarding this ordinance. … People keep saying there’s enough to go around,” Moore said, quoting a common theme from Johnson’s inaugural address and mayoral campaign. “I heard that over and over. So let’s pass an ordinance where we see enough.”

    * WGN | Chicago City Council approves $51M aid for migrant care: The $51 million is money the city received from opioid and vapor court settlements. One alderperson said it would only last about two months.

    * CBS Chicago | City Council approves $51 million in funding for migrant housing amid raucous debate: While the shouting between supporters and opponents of the ordinance prompted Chicago police officers to remove several people from the crowd inside City Hall, the debate among aldermen was more measured, though often still passionate. […] Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), who voted for the funding, said the anger on display at Wednesday’s meeting was the result of decades of disinvestment in Black neighborhoods across the city. “A conflict is being created at a weak point in this city, and it’s frustrating because this weak point wouldn’t exist if our city hadn’t spent decades not serving Black residents,” she said.

    * Chicago Defender | City Council Votes to Spend $51 Million for City Asylum Seekers: A popular sentiment among people who oppose providing emergency housing to these new arrivals is what the city does for existing homeless people and struggling residents. That sentiment and more were expressed during a spirited Wednesday city council meeting with people opposed to the ordinance chanting, “No justice, no peace.”

    * WBEZ | Chicago City Council approves $51 million in aid for migrants after racially-heated debate: Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th Ward, has been one of the most outspoken and critical council members on the city’s handling of the migrant crisis. Her ward is home to a migrant shelter in a shuttered public school, and she has repeatedly complained of a lack of coordination from the city. Still, repeating the phrase “hurt people don’t hurt people” in a floor speech Wednesday, Taylor voted to pass the funding. “If my yes vote bothers you, then so be it … because hurt people don’t hurt people,” Taylor said to shouts of “she’s a traitor” from members of the crowd.

    * ABC Chicago | Chicago City Council approves $51M for migrant housing: The council also approved a permanent outdoor dining program, allowing restaurants to expand outdoors to sidewalks and even curb lanes, and in some cases entire streets, like in River North during the pandemic.

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Florida beats out Illinois for bigger cut of EPA lead pipe replacement fund

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Chicago Tribune

When it came time to split up the first batch of $15 billion Congress set aside last year to replace toxic lead pipes, Illinois officials had plenty of reasons to expect they would get the biggest share. […]

But when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last month how it plans to share nearly $3 billion this year, Florida got the biggest cut. Another state surprisingly in the top 10: Texas.

Since then environmental lawyers have been quizzing EPA officials and state bureaucrats about a 2022 survey the agency relied upon to conclude Florida surpasses Illinois in the number of lead service lines, and that Texas has more than Michigan and Wisconsin combined. […]

Illinois and other states with the most lead service lines are getting substantially less federal money per line than those with far fewer toxic pipes. For instance, Alaska, with 1,454 lead lines, and South Dakota, with 4,141, will get $19,704 and $6,919 per line respectively during the coming year.

The federal money headed to Illinois amounts to $221 per lead service line, a review of EPA data shows. Michigan and Wisconsin are getting $241 and $238 a line.

* AP

The survey released Tuesday was the first time the agency asked about lead pipes and gave the best count yet of how many are underground. Florida, with an estimated 1.16 million pipes, was a surprise to one expert. Industrial states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania are more typically associated with extensive lead pipe issues.

Illinois ranked second in Tuesday’s survey, with 1.04 million lead pipes, followed by Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and New York. […]

Erik Olson, a health and food expert at the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said the EPA was “trying to do the right thing” by using its survey to direct lead pipe funds to states that need it most. But he called Florida’s figure “a big surprise.” Olson said the state told his group in 2021 that it doesn’t track lead service lines. The NRDC’s estimate for the state was about 200,000.

Olson said the Florida number is puzzling because lead pipes were most frequently installed in the decades before Florida’s population rapidly grew.

“We look forward to hearing an explanation,” Olson said.

* WTVO

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has awarded Rockford $4 million to replace 960 lead water pipes. […]

“Lead is a toxin that can accumulate in the body and cause serious illness or even death,” said Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford). “This funding protects public water supplies and helps Rockford and other cities across the state replace these aging water pipes before IEPA deadlines kick in.”

The award is Rockford’s fifth from IEPA State Revolving Fund, which provides principal forgiveness loans that don’t have to be repaid. Rockford has received $16 million to replace lead service lines since 2019, with $4 million being the program’s maximum award amount.

Since 2017, the IEPA has provided $105 million in funding for lead service line replacement statewide.

* Lead paint is still a health hazard in Cook County. WTTW

In suburban Cook County, officials now say as many as half a million homes have lead paint hazards that present enormous health threats for young children. One mother said her kids were poisoned several years ago — and the problems have not let up since. […]

“The most likely source of lead poisoning for children in Chicago is lead-based paint,” said Dr. Candice Robinson, medical director of the Chicago Department of Public Health. […]

The number of Chicago children with elevated lead levels has plummeted in the last 25 years. In 1996, 70% tested positive for elevated levels compared to under 2% in 2021, according to CDPH data.

But the city’s health department admits less than 50% of children are being tested regularly, a city requirement. And CDPH data finds that in many low income communities and communities of color, between 30% and 40% of all residents in older homes tested positive.

In a follow up email, a spokesperson responded, “CDPH Finds lead hazards in about 99 percent of residences built before 1978.”

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Question of the day

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* I received this text from Freshman Rep. Hoan Huynh (D-Chicago) a few moments ago…

I’m throwing out the ceremonial first pitch today at Wrigley Field around 12:30pm in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Month and as the first Asian American to represent Wrigleyville in the Illinois General Assembly!

* Mayor Johnson threw out the first pitch before Sunday’s Cubs vs Cincinnati Reds game


* The Question: What’s your favorite baseball moment?

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It’s almost a law

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Rep. Stephanie Kifowit…


* Illinois State Dental Society

The key focus of our legislative agenda this year was dental insurance reform. ISDS was victorious in passing two pieces of legislation to begin addressing dental insurance reform in Illinois.

-The legislation addressed network leasing, a bait-and-switch tactic insurance companies use to gain more revenue.

- A second piece of dental insurance reform legislation, virtual credit cards, was passed to address the issue of insurance companies requiring dentists to pay a fee to obtain payment for the services they have rendered to patients.

ISDS passed legislation related to the upcoming e-prescription requirements and legislation clarifying Illinois Dental Practice Act provisions. Additionally, we have agreed with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to implement rules to clarify when orthodontics is covered under the Medicaid program.

ISDS advocated very strongly to defeat the proposed Medicaid provider tax, which would have taxed all dentists in Illinois. We are pleased to announce that this tax did not pass this legislative session.

* AARP Illinois State Director Philippe Largent

“AARP Illinois fought hard on issues important for its 1.7 million members and older adults in Illinois.

Below are the highlights of the major legislative wins that AARP Illinois advocated for on behalf of older adults across the state. […]

Prevention of generic Rx drug price gouging: HB 3957 prevents drug manufacturers and distributors from charging unfair prices for off-patent and generic drugs in Illinois. For price increases that are excessive and unreasonable for consumers, the Attorney General will have the authority to investigate the increases, seek documentation from drug manufacturers, and petition for remedy. If substantiated, there could be rebates to consumers, civil penalties up to $10,000 per violation and even a court order to lower the cost of the drug.

Access to affordable insulin: HB 2189 addresses the insulin affordability crisis for Illinoisans who need this life-saving drug. The bill lowers the $100 co-pay cap in state-regulated health plans to $35 to align with Medicare Part D. This action was critical as the price of insulin, a 100-year-old drug, has increased by 600% over the last 20 years which had made it unaffordable for many who depend on it to survive.

Saving for retirement: HB 3155 strengthens the Illinois Secure Choice Program operationally ensuring millions of Illinois workers will have access to employment-based retirement savings whether through this program or their employer. It gives workers the freedom to choose the private savings option that works best for them. The legislation makes the program more self-sustaining and stabilizes the fees charged to participants as their account balances increase. This program has become critical to workers of all ages across Illinois who want to save for retirement. Currently, Illinois Secure Choice has more than 122,000 participants who together have saved more than $117 million for retirement, and over 9,600 employers are registered for the program.

Predatory Lending Protections: AARP Illinois opposed a measure, HB 1519, that if passed, would have allowed lenders that offer private student loans, called Income Share Agreements, charge up to 20% in some cases of a student’s future annual income. AARP Illinois also opposed an effort by pawnbrokers to charge usurious rates up to 240% APR. Both of these measures, had they not been stopped, would have charged such high interest rates that borrowers would have been tied to for years, potentially decades, significantly threatening their financial security. […]

Rights of older drivers: Illinois is the only state that requires drivers 75 and older to take a physical driving test. AARP policy supports effective, evidence-based assessment models to identify at-risk drivers of all ages. As a part of a bill that was signed into law late last year, a task force will soon convene to examine the issue and will resolve at what age, if any, will still require a re-examination. As that law offered confusing language, AARP supported HB 2091 this spring, a bill meant to clarify that age to require a physical driving test cannot be lowered to younger than 75, only raised, in the future.  

AARP Illinois now encourages Gov. Pritzker to sign those important pieces of legislation that passed into law.

* Illinois Senate Dems…

“This monumental legislation makes greater investments in our children,” said Hastings (D- Frankfort). “The cost of financing higher education can be overwhelming. The expansion of this grant program will help increase accessibility for middle class families at our state’s universities and colleges.”

House Bill 301 will make the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program permanent, increase transparency in the program to allow more students to take advantage of it, increase access for part-time students and make changes to the matching requirements for the public universities.

Since the 2019-2020 academic year the AIM HIGH program has provided merit-based, means-tested student financial aid to first-time, full-time undergraduate students and transfer students who are Illinois residents attending any of the 12 Illinois public four-year universities. AIM HIGH-participating universities are required to provide matching funding for institutional awards for students who meet certain eligibility requirements, as well as those established by each individual university.

The initiative adopts changes to help ensure that the AIM HIGH Grant Program targets those most in need, further amplifying its impact. […]

House Bill 301 passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support.

* News Channel 20

Illinois may be the first in the nation to pass a bill that requires protections for child influencers, and all of this is being spearheaded by a 16-year-old from Normal, Illinois.

What started as an independent study back in August turned into a piece of legislation that has reached national audiences.

Shreya Nallamothu thinks these protections should have happened a long time ago.

“I was like legislation takes time, I’m not expecting to change the law in five months. I’m surprised it even passed out of the Senate Labor Committee,” the 16-year-old said. […]

The new legislation makes sure children who are featured in videos receive a cut of the income their family makes through a trust fund that they can have access to when they reach the age of 18.

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Union-backed bill appears headed for rare gubernatorial veto

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Background is here if you need it. From the Iowa Supreme Court

In this appeal, we must decide whether the district court correctly ruled that qualified would-be competitors in the electric transmission market lacked standing to challenge new legislation that blocks them from bidding against existing Iowa operators on future projects. The statute at issue, Iowa Code section 478.16 (2020), grants “incumbent” Iowa [electric utilities] a right of first refusal (ROFR) that forestalls competitive bidding. […]

We are not surprised the ROFR lacked enough votes to pass without logrolling. The provision is quintessentially crony capitalism. This rent-seeking, protectionist legislation is anticompetitive. Common sense tells us that competitive bidding will lower the cost of upgrading Iowa’s electric grid and that eliminating competition will enable the incumbent to command higher prices for both construction and maintenance. Ultimately, the ROFR will impose higher costs on Iowans. The data back this up: amicus Coalition of MISO Transmission Customers offers data collected from two recent bid-based projects that indicate competition reduces costs by fifteen percent compared to MISO’s estimates. As the Coalition summarizes, “Without competition, there are fewer checks and balances on cost estimates, and no pressures or incentives to curb project costs and prevent cost overruns.”

Both Illinois chambers approved a similar bill at the 11th hour last week that would hand Ameren the right of first refusal to build regional electricity lines. You’ll recall that this “quintessentially crony capitalism” and “protectionist” legislation was fervently backed by Rep. Chris Miller (R-No Relation) during floor debate.

* This is how Ameren pitched the bill in Missouri, its home state

In states with right-of-first-refusal laws, these LRTP projects can begin as soon as they are approved by MISO, but that won’t be the case in Missouri unless HB 992 is passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor. Without the Missouri First Transmission Act, these projects will be forced to go through a lengthy bid process that could take up to two years to complete — putting Missouri behind schedule when it comes to these important transmission projects.

The legislation did not pass.

* Capitol News Illinois

Critics of the proposal said that it would reduce competition, leading to higher costs for construction projects and ultimately higher costs to energy consumers. But proponents said that it will streamline the billions of dollars of construction planned for the coming years while creating union jobs for Illinoisans. […]

While it needs only a signature from Gov. JB Pritzker to become law, he vowed last week to veto the bill. Pritzker spokesperson Alex Gough said the governor opposes the bill because it “puts corporate profits over consumers.”

The legislature could override Pritzker’s potential veto, but it would require three-fifths majorities in both chambers, a margin that it earned in the Senate, but not the House. […]

The bill’s house sponsor and the House Public Utilities Committee chair, Rep. Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, said that the proposal came to him from the union. In a Friday evening committee, Walsh said it would streamline the process of expanding the grid.

“If you have an entity that controls the transmission of our electric power throughout whatever region you’re in… It’s easier for them to do this type of work, interconnecting their system,” Walsh said.

* Crain’s

Interestingly, the bill applies only to Ameren Illinois, which serves downstate Illinois, and not Commonwealth Edison. Ordinarily, the IBEW, which represents thousands of workers at both utilities, would have pushed to favor both companies.

But ComEd’s admission of an elaborate bribery scheme aimed at currying favor with former House Speaker Michael Madigan, and the recent convictions of the so-called “ComEd Four,” including former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, on conspiracy and bribery charges, led backers to focus only on Ameren.

Where things go from here is uncertain. Pritzker left no doubt he would veto the bill. Once that happens, Welch and Harmon will have to decide whether to try to override a fellow Democrat — a rarity during Pritzker’s five years in the governor’s mansion. […]

IBEW has pushed for bills giving incumbent utilities the “right of first refusal” on new transmission in states all over the U.S. and have been successful in more than 10. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this month, while Missouri lawmakers rejected a similar proposal.

…Adding… Sun-Times editorial

In a sneaky maneuver, the Legislature slipped through a Senate amendment that would give the downstate energy utility Ameren monopolistic control over anyone building regional power lines across its territory. Such an enormous corporate giveaway could make it harder and more expensive to decarbonize the state’s and nation’s power grid just when it is crucial to connect new renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power installations, to customers in population centers.

The regional power lines Ameren could control possibly would include those that would connect the Chicago area to new solar and wind energy. But Ameren has an apparent conflict of interest: its parent company owns fossil fuel plants that generate electricity.

We’re not saying we know what Ameren would do, but slow-walking any new regional power lines appears as though it could be in its financial interest. And, as in all situations in which a company gains monopoly power, there is a risk of customers paying unnecessarily high prices for less service.

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Illinois Supreme Court will hear consolidated pension funds case

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Background is here if you need it. Pensions & Investments

The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of two new consolidated investment funds combining the assets of the state’s municipal police and firefighters’ pension funds.

The decision by the state’s Supreme Court follows the February ruling by an Illinois appellate court that the consolidated funds, the $9 billion Illinois Police Officers’ Pension Investment Fund, Peoria, and the $7.2 billion Illinois Firefighters’ Pension Investment Fund, Lombard, are constitutional.

In that ruling affirming the May 2022 decision by Kane County Circuit Court Judge Robert K. Villa that the law creating the consolidated funds was not unconstitutional under the Illinois Constitution’s pension and takings clauses, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District in Elgin, said “while plaintiffs have a constitutional right to receive pension benefits … they have no right to the investments held by the funds; rather, they are entitled only to present or future payments from the funds.”

The February 2021 lawsuit filed in Kane County by the boards of 16 municipal police pension funds and two firefighters pension funds, along with some participants from each fund, alleged the law had violated Illinois Constitution clauses by terminating “plaintiffs’ authority to exclusively manage and control their investment expenditures and income,” according to the original court filing.

* Kane County Circuit Court Judge Robert Villa upheld the consolidated pensions law in May 2022 and an appellate court affirmed the decision earlier this year. Bond Buyer

Daniel Konicek of Konicek & Dillon represents the police funds.

“We disagree from our standpoint that our people have a vested interest in this because their life savings are involved and they feel their right to vote and control” how their hard-earned contributions are invested is a protected benefit, Konicek said of the court rulings so far.

The plaintiffs argued that benefits are damaged because the law “strips plaintiffs of their autonomy and their authority” on investment decisions. The plaintiffs argued the law violates the pension protection clause, the contract clause and the takings clause of the state constitution.

The state countered that fund management doesn’t enjoy the same status as “benefits” with
constitutional protections.

Circuit court Judge Villa, in his ruling, sided with the state, saying he could not extend the term benefits beyond the reach of prior Illinois Supreme Court cases to find the challenge legislation unconstitutional against the pension clause’s protections.

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Open thread

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* We’ve made it to Wednesday! What’s going on in your part of Illinois?…

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Isabel’s morning briefing

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Here you go…

    * WTTW | Lawmaker Raises, Car Title Changes: What’s Included in Illinois’ New $50B State Budget: The spending plan doesn’t increase taxes, but it will cost people $10 more for a new car title. That means come July, it will cost $165 for a certificate of title, with the additional funds to be used to update the Illinois secretary of state’s IT infrastructure, which an external assessment found to be very outdated. The secretary of state’s office said the increase “won’t come close” to raising the $200 million needed to overhaul the “archaic” system “to better protect personal information, increase cybersecurity and prevent outages … but is a decision the GA (General Assembly) made to help generate more for modernization.”

    * WCIA | State budget includes $85 million more for program to prevent Illinois homelessness: An additional $85 million will go towards “Home Illinois”, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s plan to address the issue. This brings the state’s total investments towards preventing and ending homelessness to more than $350 million.

    * WAND | Illinois House leaders show growing division during adjournment speeches: Meanwhile, Welch said many Republicans will go back home to their districts and brag about investments included in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget they voted against. He also celebrated Democratic plans to protect reproductive rights, hold the firearm industry accountable for gun violence, and lower the cost of prescription drugs.

    * WICS | New state budget has focus on education: Next year’s budget includes a $250 million increase for early childhood education, including the Smart Start Illinois Program, and eliminating preschool deserts. $350 million will go to the K-12 education funding formula, $45 million for the first year of a pilot program to fill teacher vacancies, and $3 million to expand access to computer science coursework.

    * Sun-Times | City’s most violent Memorial Day weekend in 7 years ‘intolerable,’ Mayor Brandon Johnson says: “It produced pain and trauma that devastated communities across Chicago, and my heart breaks for everyone affected,” Johnson said in a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon. “That’s why as mayor, I am committed to leveraging every single resource at our disposal to protect every single life in our city.”

    * Sun-Times | Mayor Johnson invokes ‘soul’ of Chicago’s ancestors at Memorial Day ceremony:“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that I would not be here representing the soul of our ancestors in the city of Chicago if it were not for the soldiers whose humanity had not been recognized. They stood for democracy,” Johnson said.

    * Tribune | After community input, search for new Chicago police superintendent enters new phase on the eve of summer: The commission has a mid-July deadline to submit three finalists for the job to new Mayor Brandon Johnson. Whomever Johnson picks will need approval from the full City Council, but he can order the search process to begin again if none of the finalists are to his liking. Until then, Johnson has handed the reins of the CPD to Fred Waller, the former chief of patrol who retired in August 2020 after more than three decades with the department. Waller, who remains popular with rank-and-file officers and supervisors, has said he did not apply for the permanent job.

    * Pensions & Investments | Illinois Supreme Court to hear case on legality of 2 consolidated pension funds: The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of two new consolidated investment funds combining the assets of the state’s municipal police and firefighters’ pension funds. The decision by the state’s Supreme Court follows the February ruling by an Illinois appellate court that the consolidated funds, the $9 billion Illinois Police Officers’ Pension Investment Fund, Peoria, and the $7.2 billion Illinois Firefighters’ Pension Investment Fund, Lombard, are constitutional.

    * Illinois Answers | Alderperson Says Migrants Are Causing TB Outbreaks at Police Stations, But It’s Not True: Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) declared migrants sleeping on floors of police stations were infecting officers with tuberculosis, but the Chicago Department of Public Health said there isn’t a single confirmed case. … When an Illinois Answers Project reporter informed Lopez there weren’t any reports of tuberculosis, he doubled down on his claim, alleging the city health department was actively concealing the number of positive tuberculosis cases.

    * Mike Hoffman | I received restorative justice from the Catholic Church after surviving clergy abuse: I am a beneficiary of my abuser’s name being listed on the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and there is justice and institutional accountability in that. I am also the beneficiary of restorative justice, which is the element that I feel is missing. Beyond the attorney general’s goal of justice and giving voice to survivors as an aid to healing to from the painful trauma of childhood abuse, efforts at restorative justice have helped me, and many others like me, to live a fuller and more complete life.

    * Tribune | Former Robbins police chief files lawsuit against mayor, village for wrongful termination: In a federal lawsuit citing “concerning behavior,” Sheppard, who was fired by Bryant in April, alleges wrongful termination and violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act by Bryant and the village of Robbins. Sheppard said he was hired in October 2021 to improve the department, which he said he did by hiring more police officers and decreasing major crime rates. But Sheppard said Bryant displayed “abuse of power” by interfering with his job.

    * Tribune | Studies show Illinois most at risk from brain-damaging lead in water, but Florida getting bigger cut of $15 billion EPA fund to replace pipes: Another state surprisingly in the top 10: Texas. Since then environmental lawyers have been quizzing EPA officials and state bureaucrats about a 2022 survey the agency relied upon to conclude Florida surpasses Illinois in the number of lead service lines, and that Texas has more than Michigan and Wisconsin combined.

    * Sun-Times | William Brandt, influential Democrat, corporate restructuring pioneer, dies at 73: When future Illinois governor Pat Quinn was a freshman at the Oak Park school, he didn’t know anyone. Young Bill “invited me to be at his lunch table,” Quinn said, the beginning of an enduring friendship. “He was always very involved in social justice and helping people. He loved politics.’’

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Live coverage

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 - Posted by Isabel Miller

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