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WEEKLY UPDATE – Sept 29, 2020

Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned Wednesday that “the region of northwest Illinois that includes Rockford and Northern Illinois University and borders Wisconsin and Iowa could soon see stricter rules aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus. The nine-county region, as defined by Pritzker’s reopening plan, had a 7.5% test positivity rate as of Wednesday, which has climbed ‘at a concerning rate,’ the governor said at a news conference in Chicago.” Pritzker’s warning came soon after he announced last Friday that Will and Kankakee counties can reopen bars and resume indoor dining as their test positivity rate came down following successful mitigation measures that had been in place for weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create economic problems for Illinois and the Chicago area. The credit rating agency S&P wrote in a new report that Illinois’ chances of balancing its state budget without additional borrowing “are looking slimmer as congressional agreement on further federal assistance remains elusive.” Illinois’ rating from S&P Global Ratings is BBB- with a negative outlook. Additionally, a Crain’s Chicago Business report found that one out of every eight jobs disappeared after Gov. Pritzker ordered all non-essential businesses to close. There has been some rebound in employment as segments of the economy reopened, but 426,600 Illinois jobs, or 7 percent, still hadn't been recovered by the end of August. Ilinois small business owners, however, remain optimistic according to a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey which “shows the national Optimism Index slightly above the historical 46-year average.”

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WEEKLY UPDATE – Sept 18, 2020

On Tuesday, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that he advised his administration to prepare for a “nightmare scenario” of budget cuts if Congress does not pass a stimulus bill that includes financial support for state and local governments. Budget cuts could be at least 5% for the current fiscal year and 10% cut for the next year, causing thousands of workers to be laid off. Pritzker said that “middle class, working class, and poor families […] will likely suffer,” due to cuts that will affect public safety, education, human services, and environmental safety across the state. State agency were given until October 2 to submit their proposed cuts in order to meet the 5% reduction for the current year. Additionally, the governor told his staff to submit a spending outline for fiscal year 2022 which would reflect the predicted 10% reduction. Last fall, Pritzker had asked for similar proposals for 6.5% cuts to departments, but the cuts were not included in this year’s budget. This fiscal year’s $43 billion spending plan signed in June relies heavily on the federal aid – an element that state Republicans were very critical of. This budget allows for borrowing of maximum $5 billion from the Federal Reserve. So far, the state has only borrowed $1.2 billion in June. The State is also seeking a relaxation of the rules governing the spending of the $3.5 billion in federal aid from earlier in the year, which is restricted to expenses directly related to COVID-19 response.

Will and Kankakee counties in Region 7 have seen a decline in COVID positivity rates. This Wednesday, the region saw their positivity rate dip below the 6.5% threshold for the first time since the stricter rules have been instituted in the region. Soon, the region may be able to reopen bars and indoor dining if this declining trend continues. If the region is able to stay below the 6.5% marker for three consecutive days, they will be able to continue to phase four of the reopening plan.

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IEDA State Update – September 11, 2020

On Thursday, the House Special Investigative Committee convened in a primarily procedural meeting to begin its investigation of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s dealings with utility company ComEd. The charges in the petition the Republicans filed against Madigan accuse him of engaging in conduct unbecoming of a legislator and violations of the public trust in connection with the bribery allegations outlined in ComEd’s agreement with the federal government. The bipartisan committee, which was formed last week, is comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans. The committee has voted unanimously to contact U.S. Attorney’s office for further guidance as to not “interfere in any way with the federal investigation,” and will wait for a response to set a schedule beyond the first meeting. As discussed last week, for this process to move forward, a majority vote of the committee is required. Although Madigan has yet to be officially charged, evidence has come forward that implicates the speaker in a bribery scheme involving ComEd. Republican Representative Tom Demmer stated that, “We have an admission of facts from Commonwealth Edison to the federal prosecutor’s office that have laid out a series of very concerning occurrences that happened,” claiming that the facts are “uncontested” and calls upon the speaker to contest those statements if he believes they are not true.

Last Friday, federal prosecutors filed a bribery conspiracy charge against a former senior ComEd executive. The filing, a criminal information, indicates Fidel Marquez, previously senior vice president of government affairs at the utility, intends to plead guilty and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation. Among the allegations contained in the filing are that Marquez funneled a $37,500 payment to a company, a “substantial portion” of which was intended for associates of “Public Official A”, who is widely known to be the longtime House Speaker.

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IEDA State Update – September 4, 2020

On Wednesday Governor JB Pritzker announced additional coronavirus mitigation measures to be imposed in Region 4 (Metro East) following identical measures implemented in Region 7 (Will and Kankakee counties) last week. Two weeks ago during a press conference, Pritzker warned that, if the regions’ positivity rate continued to grow, more restrictions would be imposed. Both Region 4 and 7 are currently above the 8 percent positivity rate threshold. Specifically in Region 4, within those two weeks, the regions saw a 7-day positivity rate above 8 percent. Due to the increase in positive cases, Pritzker imposed the new mitigations in order to lower the positivity rate. “Let me be clear: these are not decisions I make lightly, nor would I impose these restrictions if there wasn’t evidence of increasing spread of the virus in these areas; I want our businesses to be open, and I want our hospitality scenes to thrive,” Pritzker said. These new restrictions imposed for both regions include:

  • a prohibition on indoor eating and drinking and closing of bars and restaurants at 11 PM daily and reopening after 6 AM;
  • social gatherings limited to lesser of 25 guests or 25 percent capacity, including at gaming facilities;
  • a ban on party buses; and
  • a ban on visitation to long-term care facilities.

Public health officials will continue to monitor the region’s positivity rate. If the rate drops to 6.5 percent or lower over the next two weeks, the region will revert to the state’s phase 4 guidelines. But, if the state continues to see a growth in positive cases, the officials will be forced to consider stronger restrictions.

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IEDA State Update – August 21, 2020

On Sunday, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced new mitigation efforts for the Metro East region downstate that went into effect Tuesday. This particular region has seen three consecutive days of a test positivity rate of 8 percent or higher, which calls for the implementation of tighter restrictions. These restrictions are similar but less strict than the restrictions Illinois saw in the earlier days of the virus: closing of bars, restaurants, and casinos by 11 p.m., ban on party buses, and a reduction of gathering sizes to the lesser of 25 people or 25 percent of room capacity. If rates do not decrease after 14 days, tighter mitigation will occur. “If the data shows we need to go backward in our reopening, I won’t hesitate to tighten restrictions to protect our collective health,” Pritzker said in the news release. Through tightening restrictions in the Metro East areas, Pritzker and IDPH hope to decrease the ever-increasing cases in the region.

Earlier this week, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health won a ruling against three Illinois school districts who claim they do not need to enforce the wearing of masks for in-person learning. In July, Pritzker filed a lawsuit to prevent the spread of coronavirus in school by ensuring that students wear face masks to school if classes were to be resume in person. Last month, Families of Faith Christian Academy in Channahon wrote letters in opposition to this lawsuit, citing the Illinois Supreme Court Rule in 1922 that states that the government cannot make rules “which merely have a tendency to prevent” the spread of infectious diseases. Others noted that, because there are technically no consequences for those who do not wear masks, these rules should be considered recommendations for school districts. Last week, the Hutsonville school board voted 4-3 to comply with the state health guidelines released in June that set instructions for the safe congregation in schools from kindergarten through college in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

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IEDA State Update – August 14, 2020

On Tuesday, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules approved a new IDPH mask rule, supported by Governor Pritzker that could impose fines up to $2,500 for “rogue” businesses failing to mandate facial coverings and social distancing. Enforcement will differ statewide, as local prosecutors will be the ones deciding whether or not to pursue fines. The rule also establishes a warning process, where businesses are first given warning from local public health or law enforcement officials as well as a separate citation for non-compliance before fines are imposed. IDPH stated that the expectation of this rule is not to achieve 100% compliance, but rather to compel businesses to make efforts such as signage, requiring masks and social distancing, and if possible, providing masks and asking uncompliant customers to leave. The rule also protects businesses from being held liable for the actions of uncompliant customers; as long as they are taking “reasonable measures”, they will not be fined. 

Tuesday’s JCAR meeting also saw the approval of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s rules governing the Local CURE program, which was authorized in May’s state budget. The $250 million program will distribute funds to cities, counties, and other units of government to cover expenses such as COVID-19 testing, emergency medical expenses, payroll expenses for public safety, and other expenses that are necessary for responding to the public health emergency. Last month, the Illinois Municipal League raised concerns about the inability to use these funds to support local businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic, something the federal government allows but the state’s rules don’t. In response to the concerns, DCEO said they would make an initial $15 million in separate funding available for local businesses, potentially rising to $30M. Additionally, the Business Interruption Grant Program (BIG), was established to distribute over $600 million in funding to businesses across the state. Governor Pritzker announced the first round of BIG grants, totaling $46 million, have been awarded to over 2,600 businesses in 78 of Illinois’ 102 counties. Priority for these grants was given to businesses that did not qualify for federal funding through the Paycheck Protection Program. DCEO stated another key focus of the program is equity, with half of first-round grants going to minority-owned businesses and more than $24 million being awarded to those areas disproportionally affected by COVID-19. Upcoming rounds of funding will target sectors that may not return to normal for many months, such as entertainment and the performing arts, as well as childcare services. 

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IEDA State Update – August 7, 2020

On Wednesday, ComEd pleaded not guilty to bribery, despite it admitting it took part in a scheme that allegedly sent $1.3 million to allies of House Speaker Michael Madigan while simultaneously attempting to gain the speaker’s support for favorable legislation. Although lawyers had previously claimed that no plea would be necessary, U.S. District Judge John Kness insisted on a formal plea during ComEd’s arraignment. Additionally during the Wednesday hearing, Kness agreed to delay the case against ComEd for another three years. Part of the deal also calls for ComEd to pay a $200 million fine, the largest criminal fine in Chicago’s federal court to this date. ComEd is able to split this payment by paying half of the fine this month and the other half by October.  The details of the scheme outlined in the court filings implicate the involvement of several other individuals, most notably Michael Madigan, but no one else has been charged at this point.

Seeing 1,759 new cases and 30 deaths within 24 hours this Wednesday, Illinois’ coronavirus cases have consistently been increasing throughout the state as the different regions begin to see an uptick in new cases. Two weeks ago, 10 out of the 11 regions had a positivity rate below 5%. Now, only four out of the eleven are below 5%. Pritzker called upon local officials to identify the causes of local outbreaks and to take any measures needed in order to cease the spread of the virus. Pritzker warned that without preventing outbreaks at the local level, the state will impose stricter regulation in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Pritzker said that “it’ll only be a matter of time before [the state] will be forced to step in on a regional basis and impose resurgence mitigation measure,” such as re-closing public dining and bars.

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IEDA State Update – July 31, 2020

Pressure from fellow legislators began to increase this week on House Speaker Michael Madigan to resign from his leadership roles in both the state House and the Illinois Democratic Party in the ongoing fallout from the ComEd bribery scandal. On Wednesday, Democratic state Representative Terra Costa Howard called for Madigan to step down, saying “even if he was not directly involved in this scheme, these accusations clearly demonstrate that the Speaker’s leadership has failed.” Costa Howard defeated Republican Peter Breen, then the party’s floor leader, in 2018; a rematch of this race is occurring this year.

On Thursday morning, state Representative Stephanie Kifowit delivered a letter to Speaker Madigan asking him to resign his speakership. In the event that he chooses not to step down, Kifowit wrote that she will not vote to re-elect Madigan as Speaker. Later in the day, Representative Kelly Cassidy called on Madigan to resign from both leadership roles. This marks four House Democrats that have called for Madigan’s resignation in some form, as Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville had previously urged him to do so. Notably, however, Stava-Murray did not vote for Madigan for speaker in January 2019, so the two never had much of a relationship.

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IEDA UPDATE – July 24, 2020

Illinois Legislative News

Following last Friday’s significant news that ComEd admitted to bribery and agreed to pay a $200M fine as part of a three-year deferred prosecution agreement, Governor J.B. Pritzker told the press at an unrelated news conference that “The speaker has a lot to answer for—to authorities, to investigators, and most importantly to the people of Illinois.” He then added, “I am deeply troubled, and frankly I’m furious with what is being reported”, and if the allegations are true, “there is no question he will have betrayed the public trust and must resign”. House GOP leader Jim Durkin echoed the governor, adding “if the allegations are true, he needs to resign immediately”. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had been hesitant to call for House Speaker Michael Madigan’s resignation, citing the current lack of criminal charges and stating that “If those allegations are true, obviously he should resign. But we don’t know that they are true yet.” She has rather focused on ComEd, calling for the company to explain itself, its business dealings, and the new reforms implemented to prevent future misconduct. House Energy Committee Chair Ann Williams has rejected calls from Republicans for public legislative hearings on the ComEd matter, stating that “a legislative committee is not the appropriate place to investigate a criminal matter.” Williams did state that she would introduce legislation to “hold utilities accountable and take the politics out of setting fair energy rates”, but did not provide a timeline for such legislation. Rep. Williams is also the lead sponsor of the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would subsidize nuclear-power plants owned by Exelon. The Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates the state’s public utilities, requested ComEd appear before the Commission’s open meeting on July 29th to address recent developments; this will be followed a Chicago City Council hearing the following day.  

Governor Pritzker suspended the bipartisan energy working group that has been considering an omnibus energy package, including additional green energy requirements and other changes. The governor’s top spokeswoman said “it is imperative that any clean energy legislation in the future has the full confidence of the public.”

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IEDA UPDATE – July 17, 2020

Illinois Legislative News

In a significant development on Friday morning, the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago filed a criminal information charging ComEd, the state’s largest electric utility, with bribery. As part of a three-year deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd has agreed to pay a $200 million fine to resolve claims it bribed public officials for favorable action. Specifically, the utility admits “it arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts, for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois, to influence and reward the official’s efforts to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business.” According to the filing, that high-level elected official – referred to as “Public Official A” – is Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Per the statements of fact, from 2011 through 2019, ComEd engaged in these activities as the General Assembly was considering many pieces of legislation which had a substantial impact on ComEd’s business. This includes the Future Energy Jobs Act – passed in 2016 – and the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act – passed in 2011.

Friday’s developments follow an investigation into public corruption that had swirled around ComEd and Madigan’s close associates for months but had never specifically implicated the longtime House Speaker. A hearing in the case has not yet been scheduled, but additional developments are likely.

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IEDA UPDATE – July 9, 2020

Illinois Legislative News

The lawsuits over the extent of Governor Pritzker’s authority during a declared disaster continue, with rulings in two cases late last week. In the first case, in federal court, the Illinois Republican Party sued the governor over the 50-person gathering limit, arguing that political parties should be able to hold gatherings of any size, citing their First Amendment rights. The state GOP sought the same treatment that houses of worship received, exempting them from this requirement. After losing the case, the party appealed numerous times, eventually asking Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from Pritzker’s order, which was denied. The party said it intends to appeal.  

In a second case, in state court, the governor lost his case against state Representative Darren Bailey’s attempt to void the state’s Executive Orders. Bailey was previously successful in getting a judge to exempt only him specifically from any subsequent orders beyond the initial Stay-at-Home order, which the representative then re-filed to apply to all the state’s residents. The same Clay County Circuit Court Judge – Michael McHaney – said that all of the governor’s EOs since April 8th are void. Crucially, the judge did not issue an injunction, with the governor’s office stressing that Phase 4 of the reopening plan remains in effect. McHaney’s ruling, which did not address all counts brought by Bailey, also recognized that the “proper authority” to close businesses and limit movements in a public health emergency lies with the Illinois Department of Public Health. The Attorney General’s Office is appealing the ruling, and a hearing in the case is set for July 17th.

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