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State of Illinois

CAPITOL RECAP: All Regions of State in Phase 4 Guidelines

Capitol News Illinois

All of Illinois’ COVID-19 mitigation regions are under Phase 4 guidelines as of Thursday, allowing for youth sports and indoor dining with loosened restrictions.

The seven-day rolling average case positivity rate continued its steady decline, dropping to 3.4 percent, a number not seen since Oct. 6.

Phase 4 is the loosest guideline outlined by the Pritzker administration, aside from Phase 5, which is essentially a return to normal. But the state cannot enter that phase without the presence of a widely available vaccine and treatment, or an end to the virus spreading in the community.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 3,328 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Thursday of 101,307 test results reported, with an additional 69 virus-related deaths.

The state has reported more than 1.1 million total cases of the virus and 19,444 total deaths since the pandemic began. A total of 16.4 million test results have been reported since the pandemic started.

As of Wednesday of night, 2,341 COVID-19 patients were reported in the hospital, 513 were in intensive care unit beds and 265 patients were reported on ventilators.

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INDOOR DINING LAWSUITS: Although the governor’s latest indoor dining ban has been lifted in all areas of the state, some lawsuits brought by restaurants challenging the ban remain active.

Among those are the cases filed by Tom DeVore, a southern Illinois lawyer who represents Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, and advises hundreds of other business clients who are staying open during the pandemic.

DeVore has argued, on behalf of restaurants, that Pritzker lacks the authority under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act – the statute through which the governor’s lawyers have claimed his authority is derived – to close businesses via emergency order. DeVore instead argues this power belongs to the Illinois Department of Public Health under the Illinois Department of Public Health Act.

This week, DeVore filed a motion asking a Sangamon County judge to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuits he initiated on behalf of two downstate restaurants against Pritzker and eight local health department officials in COVID-19 mitigation Region 4.

DeVore argues the lawsuits are no longer necessary, citing statements from health department officials from four of the eight health departments that they never enforced the executive orders because they lacked the authority to do so.

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VACCINE UPDATE: On Thursday, Feb. 4, the state reported a total of 62,318 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were administered over the previous 24 hours, approximately 3,000 less than the day prior.

The state has received more than 2.1 million doses of vaccines, with 496,100 of those allocated to the federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership program. About 2 percent of the population has received both doses of the vaccine, according to IDPH.

The state has reported 1.15 million vaccines administered throughout the state, including 178,848 for long-term care facilities. The seven-day rolling average vaccine administered is 46,709 doses.

The state announced Thursday it has also added 80 new locations where vaccinations are being administered, including 78 more Walgreens stores across the state and two National Guard supported locations in Cook and St. Clair counties.

With the addition of these two National Guard vaccine sites, the state now has a total of 12 state-supported sites. There are a total of 398 vaccination locations open across the state that are available to those eligible for the vaccine in both Phase 1A and 1B.

The state has partnered with Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco, Kroger, Mariano’s and Walgreens pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

* * *

JOBLESS CLAIMS DROP: First-time unemployment claims in Illinois dropped sharply in the last week of January as most regions in the state slowly began reopening following the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported Thursday that 40,008 workers filed initial claims for regular unemployment benefits during the week that ended Jan. 30. That was a 58 percent drop from the previous week when 95,481 people filed claims.

Still, that number was more than four times higher than the same week a year ago, before the pandemic took hold in Illinois.

The four-week rolling average number of new claims also dropped 2 percent, to 81,476. But that was still seven times higher than the comparable period in 2020.

The Illinois job market also outperformed the U.S. labor market during the week. Nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Labor numbers, first-time jobless claims fell 2.8 percent, to 816,247.

For the week that ended Jan. 23, the number of Illinois workers receiving continuing unemployment benefits fell less than 2 percent, to 322,670. Nationwide, that number fell 2.4 percent, to just over 5 million.

The state’s overall unemployment rate for January won’t be released until later this month. In December, that rate climbed seven-tenths of a point, to 7.6 percent, which was more than double what it had been a year earlier.

Also in December, Congress passed the Continued Assistance Act, or CAA, which renewed two federally-funded unemployment programs that were set to expire at the end of that month. The act also provides an additional $300 per week in benefits, half the amount of supplemental benefits that had been included in the original Coronavirus Aide, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act. Those supplemental benefits had expired the week of July 25.

Another program the act renewed is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA program, which provides benefits to independent contractors, self-employed individuals and others not covered by traditional state unemployment insurance. But state officials throughout the country, including Illinois, had complained that the initial program was fraught with fraud because it did not require applicants to verify their previous employment.

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OPIOID SETTLEMENT: The state will receive $19.8 million from a settlement reached Thursday between a coalition of attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and the consulting firm McKinsey.

McKInsey has been investigated and sued by multiple states for its role in the opioid epidemic. The settlement, totaling $573 million, will be the first multistate settlement related to the opioid crisis to result in substantial payment, according to a Thursday release from Raoul’s office.

According to Raoul’s office, the settlement “will be used to abate and address the impact of the opioid epidemic throughout Illinois and the other participating states.”

McKinsey was sued due to its work for Purdue Pharma, the company behind the manufacture of OxyContin, an addictive opioid, which helped exacerbate the opioid crisis. The states’ investigation of Purdue found the company had implemented marketing schemes presented by McKinsey to target vulnerable populations and push physicians to prescribe more opioids for over a decade.

According to the settlement, when states sued Purdue Pharma in 2019, McKinsey partners attempted to destroy evidence of their work for Purdue. Along with the monetary payments, the settlement also requires McKinsey to prepare tens of thousands of internal documents relating to its work for Purdue and other opioid companies, investigate the partners responsible for the attempted destruction of evidence, implement a strict ethics code and end its consulting work for companies involved in the sale and manufacture of Schedule II and Schedule III narcotics.

Raoul reached the settlement alongside 52 other attorneys general for 46 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.

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MCCANN INDICTED: A former Republican state Senator and Conservative Party candidate for governor on Wednesday joined the list of ex-state officials who have been indicted.

Springfield-area lawmaker Sam McCann, who frequently butted heads with Republican ex-Governor Bruce Rauner and eventually challenged him as a third-party candidate in 2018, was indicted on charges of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion related to his alleged use of campaign funds for personal expenses, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Central District of Illinois.

The indictment alleges that from May 2015 to June 2020 McCann “engaged in a scheme to convert more than $200,000 in contributions and donations made to his campaign committees to pay himself and make personal purchases.” Further, McCann concealed his fraud from donors, the public, the Illinois State Board of Elections and law enforcement authorities, according to the news release.

McCann, of Plainview, was a state senator from 2011 until January 2019 following his unsuccessful third-party run for governor in which he received about 4.2 percent of the vote, or 192,527 votes.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, McCann organized several political committees which received over $5 million in donations.

But in several instances, McCann used some of that money to purchase personal vehicles, pay personal debts, make mortgage payments and pay himself, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

* * *

GOP RECALL MEASURES: Republican lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly are promoting three legislative proposals to give voters greater authority to amend the state constitution, recall legislative leaders and other lawmakers, and repeal recently-passed state laws.

The “Voter Empowerment Project” includes three amendments to the state constitution, meaning each would need approval from three-fifths of lawmakers before it would head to voters for approval in a statewide election year. The threshold for approval from voters on a constitutional amendment is 60 percent of voters on the specific question or the majority of those voting in the election.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said whether or not the bills get to the floor for full debate in the upcoming legislative session may be dependent on what rules the House adopts under newly seated Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.

The House is scheduled to return to discuss rules on Wednesday, Feb. 10. A frequent Durkin critique of former Speaker Michael Madigan was that he let bills he did not like languish before the House Rules Committee, meaning they would not gain a hearing at the substantial committee level or a vote on the House floor.

When it comes to the measures discussed Wednesday, Durkin said, “We just want an up or down vote.”

Welch has indicated he is open to reforming House rules, and he and Durkin have spoken several times since Welch was inaugurated, according to both leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said he has brought up rule changes to Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as well “in hopes of being able to negotiate a broader and kind of more inclusive process.”

While McConchie said he’d submitted the documents to Harmon, a spokesperson for Harmon said in an email that questions from a reporter were “the most information we’ve received” on the measures, although they would be taken under review.

* * *

COURT REPORT: In its annual report to the General Assembly, the Illinois Supreme Court asked lawmakers to consider seven decisions it issued during 2020, including three in criminal cases pertaining to stalking, regulations for sex offenders in public spaces and obstruction of justice by providing false information.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who was chair of the Senate Criminal Law committee in the previous General Assembly, said he’s interested in looking at ways to “clean up” some of the language in a section of the stalking statute that was at issue in People v. Marshall Ashley. The statute defines stalking as two or more threats that the charged person knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.

Ashley’s defense argued this section of the stalking statute is too broad because it criminalizes lawful threats covered by the First Amendment.

The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately decided that the Legislature meant “threats” to mean “true threats” of unlawful violence that are not protected by the First Amendment and concluded the statute does not infringe on free speech rights.

The second criminal case referenced in the annual report is People v. Patrick Legoo. In that case, Legoo, a registered sex offender, was convicted of violating the section of the statute that prohibits sex offenders from being in or near a public park because he was at the park to retrieve his son.

Legoo argued the criminal statute forbidding sex offenders from being present in public parks conflicts directly with another section in the statute that allows for sex offenders who are parents or guardians of children to be present at a public park with their child.

The final criminal case referenced in the Supreme Court’s report is People v. Rasheed Casler. In that case, Rasheed Casler was convicted of obstructing justice for furnishing false information when he gave police officers a fake name. Casler appealed his conviction, arguing that providing a false name — or “furnishing false information” — did not qualify as obstruction of justice in his case under the statute because that action did not stop his arrest from moving forward, or “materially impede” his arrest.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed with Casler and reversed his conviction. The court decided an obstruction of justice conviction for “furnishing false information” requires the court to find the false information must have “materially impeded” the arrest or investigation.

* * *

CENTRAL ILLINOIS JUVENILE CENTER: The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is establishing an Illinois Youth Center in the city of Lincoln in Logan County. The facility will be part of the state’s ongoing effort to secure incarcerated juveniles in smaller dorm-like facilities based on community, rehabilitation and restorative justice, rather than only detention. Gov. JB Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton unveiled their overhaul of the juvenile justice system last July. The four-year plan, called the “21st Century Illinois Transformation Model,” is split into three phases. Execution of the plan is the purview of the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative that operates out of Stratton’s office.

The first phase of the plan was engaging stakeholders and identifying and initiating capital projects, such as the Lincoln site. Phase 2 of the Transformative Model, which the governor’s office said will begin later this year, calls for incarcerated youths to be transferred from correctional facilities akin to what houses adult criminal offenders into smaller dorm-like accommodations closer to home. The effort aims to address the issue of youth being incarcerated where they have no familial or community support.

Around 40 percent of youths committed to IDJJ facilities come from central Illinois, yet there are no such facilities located there to contain them. The Lincoln facility will be the first. As of the IDJJ’s October monthly report, there were 130 juveniles in state custody. The Lincoln site is slated to hold up to 30 juveniles in dormitories with newly constructed facilities for education, recreation and food services.

The new center will be created through a renovation of the Lincoln Developmental Center, which has been closed since 2002. The institution for intellectually disabled children and young adults was shuttered by former Republican Gov. George Ryan after reports surfaced alleging abuse, neglect and preventable deaths among individuals housed there. A spokesperson for IDJJ said the project is expected to take approximately two years to complete.

* * *

CHILD DEATHS DECLINE: Child welfare officials in Illinois reported a 17 percent decline in the number of child death cases they investigated during the previous fiscal year, an indicator, they say, of progress in addressing previous shortcomings. According to the latest annual report by the Department of Children and Family Services’ inspector general, the agency opened 102 child death investigations during the fiscal year that ended June 30, down from 123 the previous year.

DCFS investigates the death of any child whose family had been in contact with the agency during the previous year. That includes deaths that result from accidents and illnesses as well as homicide and suicide.

Of the 102 deaths that occurred during the year, 41 were determined to be the result of natural causes, 30 were the result of accidents. Homicides accounted for 12 of the deaths. Five were caused by suicides and 14 were from undetermined causes.

The ages of the homicide victims ranged from 4-6 months to 17 years. Of the 12 homicide victims, four were classified as “youth in care,” meaning they had been placed in the temporary care of DCFS because a court had determined their families could not safely care for them. Two were in families receiving intact services, one involved the child of a former youth in care and one had previously been in foster care but was returned to his or her family within the previous year. DCFS reported 123 deaths last year, including 24 homicides and 11 cases involving children whose families had been the subject of a report of suspected abuse or neglect that investigators later determined were “unfounded.”

From 2000 through 2019, that report indicated, DCFS averaged only 105 child death investigations each year, so the fact that the 2019 fiscal year had 123 deaths investigated was considered an outlier.

Last year’s report included a long list of recommendations, some related to specific cases but others calling for “systemic” changes in the way DCFS handles reports of suspected child abuse and neglect.

* * *

TEACHER STANDARDS: Republican Illinois state lawmakers pushed back Monday, Feb. 1, on proposed new standards for teachers and administrators that are scheduled for a hearing before a legislative rulemaking committee later this month. Supporters of the proposed “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” say they’re merely an attempt to make sure that all educators are trained in ways to reach students across all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. But critics are calling them a form of political indoctrination that seeks to inject partisan, liberal ideology into the classroom.

The new standards would apply to teacher training programs at Illinois colleges and universities rather than K-12 school curricula. They are scheduled to come up for legislative review on Tuesday, Feb. 16, before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, a legislative body that has oversight authority over state regulatory agencies. If approved, the standards would take effect in October 2025, according to a statement from the Illinois State Board of Education.

ISBE also noted it will “offer optional professional development on the standards to current educators,” but school districts “maintain local control over what professional development they choose.”

During a virtual news conference Monday, three Republican House members said they hope JCAR will block the adoption of the proposed rules.

Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, who serves on JCAR, pointed specifically to a portion of the new standards that call on teachers to “understand and value the notion that multiple lived experiences exist, that there is not one ‘correct’ way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as ‘correct’ is most often based on our lived experiences.”

He also pointed to another provision calling on teachers to “(a)ssess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.)”

Another provision calls on educators to “(b)e aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities.”

JCAR is a 12-member group that is evenly divided between House and Senate members and between Democrats and Republicans. It would need eight votes, meaning at least two Democratic votes, to object to the rule change.

Carmen Ayala, the state superintendent of education, defended the proposed rules, arguing that they are intended to help address the wide achievement gaps between different racial and ethnic student groups.

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WELCH 'OF COUNSEL': Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said Saturday, Jan. 30, he has stepped away from his role as partner at Ancel Glink, a law firm that primarily represents Illinois local governments in a variety of practice areas. His wife ShawnTe Raines remains at the firm as a partner.

“When I was elected speaker, I promised to model the kind of leadership we need to restore the public’s confidence in our ethics. As a simple first step, I have stepped back from my role as partner at Ancel Glink. I will remain with the firm, but as of yesterday my relationship with the firm is of counsel. This is similar to the course of action taken by other leaders in the General Assembly,” Welch said in a written statement.

Sean Anderson, Welch’s spokesperson, declined to comment specifically on how Welch’s of counsel duties would differ from his duties as partner.

Kathryn Eisenhart, an emerita associate professor of legal studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said the major difference in being a partner versus of counsel is largely financial.

While law firm partners and members earn a share of the firm’s profit on top of their income, of counsels do not, Eisenhart said.

“You're looking at somebody who is now no longer a shareholder. That's the important thing, I think, for Mr. Welch,” Eisenhart said.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, switched to of counsel from partner at his law firm, Saul Ewing Arnstein and Lehr LLP, after he was elected leader of the Republican caucus in 2013. Durkin joined the firm as a partner in 2011.

When Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, became Senate President in January 2020, he resigned as partner at Burke Burns and Pinelli Ltd.

Harmon’s predecessor John Cullerton was also a lawyer. Cullerton, however, remained a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP during his 11-year tenure as Senate President.

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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