|Question of the day
Thursday, Aug 6, 2020
* Center Square…
The truncated COVID-19 session the Illinois legislature organized in late May in Springfield had an additional $143,000 taxpayer cost so the House could legislate while remaining socially distant. […]
The invoice from the Bank of Springfield Center put the final cost at $143,857. Of that, $50,600 was for audio and video equipment rental and nearly $5,500 for stage hands. Catering cost $48,900. Parking cost about $5,600. The facility rental was $20,000.
Not going to second-guess the price because May was a really bad COVID month.
* The Question: Should this sort of session be avoided in the future? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please…
- Posted by Rich Miller
* Center Square…
Environmental advocates are hoping new social justice and ethics enhancements to their signature green energy overhaul of Illinois’ power portfolio are enough to get it to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk this fall, but a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over the bill that is seen as another handout for a power provider mired in a patronage scandal.
Groups behind the Clean Energy Jobs Act, or CEJA, announced changes to the proposed Illinois bill that they say better reflect the need for ethics reforms for power providers and social justice.
“These extraordinary crises call for bold action this fall that puts the people of Illinois first, not utilities and polluters,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter.
Darrin said they’ll also advocate repealing rate hikes given to Exelon subsidiary ComEd by lawmakers in 2011.
* Amanda Vinicky
“Illinois People’s Action has never believed corporations should police themselves; not the banks, not the coal merchants and not the utilities,” said Peoria Rev. Tony Pierce of Illinois People’s Action. “Let’s move forward by making the deferred prosecution agreement accountability structures permanent and make sure we’re not relying on ComEd or any other utility to police itself.”
Energy consultant Andrew Barbeau, president of The Accelerate Group, said the focus will also be on utilities’ lobbying practices and transparency.
“The system has been so tilted in the favor of fossil plant and polluters over the course of the last decade,” Barbeau said. “As the facts have come to light, we think it’s appropriate for regulated utilities to be subject to these transparency and strong ethics guidelines. We want to be sure that, as we look at how the utilities spend their money, they’re not doing it in a way that creates conflicts of interest.”
In addition to requiring an independent monitor over utilities and a rollback of the formula currently used to set electric rates in favor of a new rate-setting method that gives regulators and the public additional agency, the plan will require that more jobs and resources go to communities most affected by the impact of dirty power producers, including communities of color.
* Capitol News Illinois…
In addition, coalition members said they want language added to the bill that repeals legislation from 2011 that provides for automatic, formula-based rate adjustments.
“This is something that we’ve been concerned about for a long time,” said Andrew Barbeau, of the Environmental Defense Fund. “And I think as the facts have come to light, we think it’s appropriate for regulated utilities to be subject to these transparency and strong ethics guidelines.”
That formula-based rate was a hard-fought win for the company.
- Posted by Rich Miller
* David Greising of the BGA today…
Voters have the option to hold them accountable. They can track which candidates accept Madigan campaign money. They can make the vote for Madigan as speaker in January a key issue at the ballot box.
They also can let Gov. Pritzker know that their decision on the so-called fair tax amendment this fall will rest on the governor’s stance on Madigan.
* David Greising of the BGA July 9…
But unlike Ogilvie, who fit his argument for an income tax into a case for holistic fiscal reform, Pritzker so far has left his graduated tax to stand mostly on its own.
He might have paired his tax initiative, which is popular with liberals, with a pension amendment, which would have appealed to conservatives. Meaningful property tax reform would have made the tax change more palatable to some. Pritzker did neither, offering little to voters who are skeptical of his plan.
Those working to defeat Pritzker’s tax plan can raise questions about whether Pritzker or some future governor might use the graduated tax to ratchet up taxes on middle-income voters, not just the top 3%. Once the Pritzker tax passes, they argue, nothing in the proposed constitutional amendment prevents that from happening.
* David Greising of the BGA February 20…
When Illinois voters go to the polls in November, the progressive tax amendment may be the most important question on their ballots. The issue will be up for grabs, more so than whether blue-state Illinois will want to back President Donald Trump for a second term.
Pritzker’s plan would replace Illinois’ flat tax with a graduated income tax projected to increase revenue by $3.6 billion a year, chiefly by hiking tax rates on the top 3% of all earners.
As a political matter, nothing means more to Pritzker’s future than getting voters to back the amendment. The graduated tax is the issue that got him elected, and a victory in November would help pave the way to reelection. It could even feed any aspiration Pritzker may have for even higher office.
* David Greising of the BGA April 5, 2019…
Adding a change to the pension clause, alongside the plan for reform of the tax system, would constitute a classic negotiating strategy: The progressive tax appeals to liberals and the pension fix to more fiscally conservative voters.
The pension fix also makes good policy in its own right. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel even called for it late last year, in the waning days of his mayoralty.
Pritzker may not need a package deal of constitutional reforms. He probably can get the votes to pass his tax amendment without a pension fix, too. But the progressive tax alone won’t solve the state’s fiscal problems. And passing both amendments together would be a good sign that voters in all income brackets can look forward to some measure of relief from their new governor.
- Posted by Rich Miller
* WGEM TV…
Judge Roger Thomson sided with the Quincy Public School Board of Education Thursday morning by granting their attorney’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging QPS’s ability to require students to wear face masks and submit to temperature checks to attend in-person learning.
The judge said the board has the power to adopt rules to govern attendance when it is necessary to maintain school function or protect health and safety.
Attorney Thomas DeVore filed the lawsuit on behalf of parent Roni Quinn. DeVore cited several previous cases when the courts ruled against schools’ abilities to pass rules governing attendance in relation to smallpox vaccinations.
Judge Thomson said those cases were between 1897 and 1924. Thomson said in the last 96 to 120 years the General Assembly has acted to significantly change the school code to expand powers and duties granted to school boards.
Thomson granted the motion to dismiss without prejudice, which allows DeVore to file an amended suit within the next 21 days.
Maybe DeVore should try to move the suit to Clay County. /s
*** UPDATE *** WMAY…
Appearing live on WMAY, Thomas DeVore said he is filing suit against Mayor Jim Langfelder’s executive order mandating businesses to enforce face mask and social distancing rules or risk fines and possible loss of food service or liquor licenses. DeVore is representing Fox Run restaurant in the case.
He says Langfelder lacks the legal authority to issue such orders… and calls the lawsuit the easiest case he’s seen yet among the multiple suits he’s filed related to pandemic restrictions.
Maybe it’s easy in Clay County. Sangamon could turn out to be a different animal altogether.
- Posted by Rich Miller
* The vote was unanimous, according to Greg Hinz…
The huge Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System announced Executive Director Richard Ingram resigned Aug. 3, three days after the TRS board placed him on administrative leave “due to performance issues covered by his employment contract.”. […]
According to the agency’s last annual financial report, it concluded fiscal 2019 on June 30, 2019, with $53.3 billion in assets but $134.4 billion liabilities, leaving it with a funded ratio of just 40.6 percent.
In a preface to the report, Ingram openly discussed the possibility that TRS could go “insolvent,” a development he blamed on consistent underfunding by state government. The same report, however, disclosed TRS’ return on assets in fiscal 2019 plummeted from $4 billion to $2.6 billion.
Pritzker aides did not immediately return calls for comment, but sources familiar with TRS tell me there were disputes over investment philosophy and how low to set the fund’s assumed rate of return. Setting that figure lower would force the state to contribute more each year now, something that would pull money from other, arguably more politically popular funding programs.
*** UPDATE 1 *** Greg’s story has been updated…
An investigation by led by former U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon has led to the ouster of the head of the state’s largest government pension plan.
The huge Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System confirmed this afternoon that Executive Director Richard Ingram resigned after the board received results of a review into “performance-based issues” from Chicago law firm King & Spalding, where Fardon is now a partner in the firm’s government investigations practice.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Bruce Rushton…
Ingram’s resignation comes after the recent termination of Jana Bergschneider, the board’s chief financial officer. Bergschneider was paid $191,300 last year, according to Illinois comptroller records. Ingram was paid $303,000 per year, according to the comptroller.
David Urbanek, TRS spokesman, said that he could not give details surrounding the departures of Bergschneider and Ingram, saying that they are personnel matters. Devon Bruce, board chairman did not respond to an emailed request for an interview. After Illinois Times asked to speak with Bruce, Urbanek told the paper that the board chairman is not giving interviews.
“However, I have been authorized to provide the media with one addition piece of information: The Board’s unanimous vote came after an investigation of issues relating to Mr. Ingram’s contract conducted by the Chicago law firm of King and Spalding,” Urbanek wrote. “Leading the investigation for King and Spalding was its managing partner, Zachary Fardon, the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.”
Asked whether the investigation found any evidence of criminal conduct or whether any law enforcement agency has been contacted, Urbanek wrote in an email that he had no comment.
- Posted by Rich Miller
Public officials’ private email and text accounts are subject to disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, the Illinois 1st District Appellate Court ruled on Wednesday, upholding a circuit judge’s ruling in a Better Government Association lawsuit against the city of Chicago.
“Allowing public officials to shield information from the public’s view merely by using their personal accounts rather than their government-issued ones would be anathema to the purposes of FOIA,” according to the opinion written by Justice Cynthia Cobbs.
The BGA sued in 2017 to obtain records that were improperly withheld by the administration of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen ruled that the city did not conduct a reasonable search for records because its search did not account for emails or texts on employees’ private accounts. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Law Department appealed that ruling.
In 2016, the BGA filed FOIA requests for information on lead testing conducted in Chicago Public Schools after a pilot program found elevated levels in drinking water at a South Side elementary school. The BGA asked for communications among 10 city or schools employees related to “lead and CPS” between April 1, 2016 and June 17, 2016.
The city produced some records, but did not query the named officials about possible communications on private accounts. The city acknowledged that four officials named in the request used their private accounts for public business, but claimed that those communications are not subject to FOIA. The appellate court rejected that argument.
The justices also rejected a city claim that upholding the circuit court ruling would force public bodies to search employees’ private accounts “and potentially their homes and other private locations in response to almost any FOIA request.” The city is simply required to inquire about whether the records exist — an approach that “has been persuasively endorsed by several courts,” the Illinois appellate panel said.
“We were frankly disappointed that Mayor Lightfoot’s administration continued to litigate this case, embracing the anti-transparency argument staked out by her predecessor,” said BGA President David Greising. “This losing battle has been costly to taxpayers and is incompatible with the mayor’s stated commitment to transparency in her administration and access to public records.”
* From the opinion…
We also reiterate that only those communications that pertain to public business are potentially subject to disclosure in the first place. No information concerning the officials’ private lives need be disclosed to defendants’ FOIA officers. Officials can also avoid any personal account disclosure in the future by simply refraining from the use of personal accounts to conduct public business. […]
Finally, defendants raise concerns about the ability of a public body to compel its officials to turn over responsive records contained in their personal accounts. However, there is no indication that the officials in this case will be unwilling to comply with a court order. Additionally, if the officials prove incalcitrant, FOIA provides that the circuit court may help enforce disclosure through its contempt powers. […]
In sum, we hold that the e-mails and text messages sought by the BGA are public records under FOIA because they pertain to public business and share the requisite connection to a public body. This conclusion is entirely consistent with both the letter and purpose of the statute. […]
In sum, we hold that communications pertaining to public business within public officials’ personal text messages and e-mail accounts are public records subject to FOIA. The BGA submitted sufficient evidence to establish a reason to believe that defendants’ officials used their personal accounts to conduct public business. Defendants’ refusal to even inquire whether their officials’ personal accounts contain responsive records was therefore unreasonable under the facts of this case. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the circuit court directing defendants to inquire whether the relevant officials used their personal accounts for public business.
- Posted by Rich Miller
* Press release…
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) today announced 1,953 new confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including 21 additional confirmed deaths.
Bond County: 1 female 60s
Cook County: 1 female 30s, 2 males 70s, 2 males 80s
DeKalb County: 1 female 60s
DuPage County: 1 female 50s, 1 male 70s, 1 male 80s, 1 female 90s
Gallatin County: 1 male 70s
Kane County: 1 male 90s
Knox County: 1 male 90s
Lake County: 1 male 90s
Madison County: 1 female 90s
Rock Island County: 1 male 80s
Saline County: 1 female 60s
Union County: 1 male 50s
Will County: 1 male 80s
Williamson County: 1 unknown 60s
Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 188,424 cases, including 7,594 deaths, in 102 counties in Illinois. The age of cases ranges from younger than one to older than 100 years. Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported 41,686 specimens for a total of 2,937,749. The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total test from July 30 – August 5 is 4.0%. As of last night, 1,517 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 346 patients were in the ICU and 132 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.
Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IDPH is now reporting both confirmed and probable cases and deaths on its website. Reporting probable cases will help show the potential burden of COVID-19 illness and efficacy of population-based non-pharmaceutical interventions. IDPH will update these data once a week.
“In the next two to four weeks, we’re really going to start seeing the effects,” University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon said. “We just started seeing an increase in patients in the hospital in the last week and a half. Deaths come into the picture a couple of weeks after that.”
That means the worst could be yet to come, as the Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported the latest 1,471 cases of the disease, marking two straight weeks with four-digit daily caseloads.
Illinois has averaged about 1,500 new cases per day over those two weeks — almost double the daily case average in June — but the 19 latest COVID-19 deaths reported Tuesday are just slightly above the average of 17 deaths per day during that time frame.
It takes some time for deaths to catch up to case trends in either direction. When Illinois’ coronavirus curve hit a valley with just 473 new cases reported June 15, the state still averaged about 42 deaths per day for the following two weeks, including 84 on June 17.
- Posted by Rich Miller
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that Illinois officials have found more than 120,000 cases of unemployment fraud since March connected to a national identity theft scheme during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pritzker said in a news conference that residents who received an unemployment debit card or letter from the state in the mail, but did not apply for unemployment assistance, are likely victims of the fraud. The state recommends they report identity theft to the Illinois Department of Employment Security at www.illinois.gov/ides or by calling 800-814-0513, Pritzker said.
IDES found 107,000 fraud cases in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program set up in May, and about 14,000 in the state system, Pritzker said.
The governor laid blame on flaws in the federal program and said states across the country are facing similar cases of fraud.
Pritzker said the federal system resulted in “massive holes for illegal fraudsters to steal federal funds.”
A “poorly designed” national program allowed “highly experienced money launderers” to take advantage of “massive holes” to file more than 120,000 fraudulent claims through Illinois’ beleaguered unemployment benefits system during the coronavirus pandemic. […]
In the scheme, fraudsters have used Illinois residents’ personal information stolen in separate data breaches to apply for benefits to be paid through direct-deposit, debit cards and other financial tools employed by legitimate filers.
“The highly experienced money launderers who have perpetrated these crimes use the same payment methods that regular filers do,” Pritzker said, so the state can’t cut off “common dispersal mechanisms” that are also used by people who really need the help.
Accompanying Pritzker to yesterday’s press conference was Marco Morales, the IDES benefit payment control manager. Chicago reporters did not ask him a single question. Instead, several focused on COVID-19 topics that were covered way back in March and April. It was a weird thing.
* Anyway, back to unemployment…
The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits fell last week, but a staggering 31.3 million people were receiving unemployment checks in mid-July, suggesting the labor market was stalling as the country battles a resurgence in new COVID-19 cases that is threatening a budding economic recovery.
Other data on Thursday showed a 54% surge in job cuts announced by employers in July. The reports followed on the heels of news this week of a sharp step-down in private payrolls in July and continued declines in employment at manufacturing and services industries.
“Repeated shutdowns for virus containment remain a threat to the labor market, which is already weak,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “Without effective virus containment the recovery remains at risk from ongoing job losses that could further restrain incomes and spending.”
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 249,000 to a seasonally adjusted 1.186 million for the week ended Aug. 1, the Labor Department said. That was the lowest since mid-March. Claims remain well above the peak of 695,000 during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
According to the US Department of Labor, 24,712 Illinoisans filed for new unemployment claims last week, down 8,518 from the previous week. Another 4,515 filed for pandemic unemployment assistance, down 1,943 from the previous week.
This is the 20th straight week that more than a million people have filed for new unemployment assistance.
- Posted by Rich Miller
Illinois’ county sheriffs got a big win Monday in their ongoing battle with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and they wasted little time in taking advantage of it.
A Logan County judge found that the governor has no authority to bar transfers of sentenced inmates or those on holds for parole violations from local jails to state prisons. The judge’s decision prompted Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman, among others throughout the state, to take immediate advantage of the order.
“We took 20” to the Department of Corrections’ intake facility at Stateville on Tuesday, Chief Deputy Shannon Barrett said. Another 35 inmates are awaiting transfer, and Barrett said “we’ll get them there as soon as possible.”
“There’s a whole line of (county jail vans containing inmates) there today,” Barrett said.
“Space issues” are continuing at the McLean County jail after the Illinois Department of Corrections turned away at the prison gates 33 inmates scheduled for transfer, Sheriff Jon Sandage said Tuesday. […]
Vans filled with 36 inmates left Bloomington at 5 a.m. Tuesday for Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, but IDOC officials said they could take no more than three.
“We were hoping to get rid of 36, but we only got rid of three,” Sandage told the McLean County Justice Committee Tuesday evening. “They said they ran out of space.”
Judge Jonathan Wright ruled in Logan County Monday that the IDOC must accept inmates within 14 days of a transfer. The sheriff’s association estimated about 2,000 inmates are awaiting transfer to state facilities, including about 44 in McLean County.
“Our first van left Bloomington at 5 a.m.,” said Sandage. But counties from across the state also were bringing their prisoners. So, by 2 p.m. when McLean County’s five vans reached the gate, the prison staff said it already was full.
Yeah, maybe they need a better system in place. Or the sheriffs could call ahead before just hitting the road.
…Adding… The county where the judge lives…
The Logan County Sheriff’s Office attempted to transfer seven inmates to the state-run Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro on Wednesday night, but when the transport vehicle arrived at the state prison, two of the seven inmates tested positive for Covid-19.
The Department of Corrections would not accept the inmates who tested positive, which sparked a short standoff between the state and local agencies. The Logan County transport vehicle insisted the inmates be transferred, and refused to leave the parking lot for a period of about two hours after their tests came back positive, two sources said.
A sergeant at the Logan County jail initially declined to comment on the incident when reached by phone on Wednesday night. Moments later, the vehicle left the state prison parking lot and returned to the county jail in Lincoln with all seven inmates still in their custody.
News reports in Illinois indicate that a number of county sheriffs have begun the process of transferring prisoners held in county jails to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). These transfers had been blocked by an order from Governor Pritzker as part of the State’s strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19 in state correctional facilities. After a group of county sheriffs challenged the order, a Logan County Judge ruled against the Governor’s order, and sheriffs quickly began the transfer process before the ruling could be appealed.
The following statement can be attributed to Camille Bennett, Director of the Corrections Reform Project, ACLU of Illinois:
“It is regrettable that some sheriffs appear anxious to resume transfers to IDOC even before the legal process has played out. Elected officials should be mindful of health risks to those being transferred as well as those inside IDOC facilities, including staff and their families.
We know that prisons and jails have been vectors for spread of the coronavirus and moving people in and out – including sheriffs’ personnel managing the transfers – only increases spread of the virus.
The State deserves an opportunity to appeal this ruling before the risk of spread is magnified. Unnecessarily subjecting detainees, staff, and communities to a potentially lethal virus without appropriate public health precautions is needlessly cruel.”
- Posted by Rich Miller
|Morning open thread
Thursday, Aug 6, 2020
* I have some weekday-only things to take care of today, so I’ll see you after lunch. Please keep it civil and Illinois-centric. In other words, no national politics. Thanks.
Keep an eye on the live coverage feed and that way you can also discuss any breaking news, if any. The governor has no public events scheduled today.
- Posted by Rich Miller
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