Pritzker 092620

Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 22, about changes to the licensing process for marijuana dispensaries. 

SPRINGFIELD – Failed applicants for a marijuana dispensary license will have an opportunity to amend their applications and receive more information as to why they were denied points in the scoring process.

In a news release Monday, Sept. 21, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said they came to the decision after a “careful examination” based on “feedback from community leaders and stakeholders.”

The change allows denied applicants to resubmit their applications or have them rescored after receiving a “supplemental deficiency notice” that tells them which specific portions of their application lost points and prevented them from reaching the 252-point perfect score needed to enter the lottery to distribute licenses.

Those receiving a perfect score after this process takes place would be added to the lottery for the first 75 licenses.

An applicant may not, however, change the owners or makeup of its ownership group on resubmitted applications. Officials said the process allowing for rescoring could be wrapped up “this fall.”

The announcement of changes comes after just 21 of more than 900 applicants received perfect scores in the first round of grading by an outside company. That meant no other applicants would be eligible for any of the 75 licenses granted in the first wave of the new program, which sparked an immediate backlash from lawmakers, applicants and activists.

The outside professional services and auditing firm conducting the first round of grading was KPMG, and they will once again be grading the rescored applications, according to the governor’s office. A spokesperson from the governor’s office noted, however, that “IDFPR will ensure strong oversight of the process with KPMG to ensure every step focuses on fairness.”

KPMG received a $4.2 million no-bid contract from the state to score dispensary applicants, as well as a $2.5 million no-bid contract from the Illinois Department of Agriculture to grade applicants who wish to receive a license to grow, transport and infuse cannabis products.

The grow licenses have yet to be awarded, as the process has seen significant delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the news conference Tuesday, Sept. 22, Pritzker and his lead marijuana advisor, former state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, said the General Assembly could amend the legalization law for future waves of licenses to provide a cut-off range for applicants to qualify for a license rather than only accepting the highest scores.

According to Hutchinson, that would allow worthy applicants who don’t achieve a perfect score for reasons such as not having a majority veteran stakeholder to still advance to the lottery stage. But those changes would require action from the General Assembly and be more likely to happen in future rounds, rather than for the first wave of 75 licenses.

“This process is designed for us to see all the things that worked and figure out how to tighten this as we move forward,” Hutchinson said, noting that 75 licenses in the initial distribution is an intentionally small number.

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GOP ETHICS BILLS: Illinois Senate Republicans unveiled a package of ethics proposals Thursday, Sept. 24, which they say is targeted to stop the type of corruption that has led to the indictment of four legislative Democrats in recent months.

“Today we're introducing a legislative package that targets corruption by focusing on two distinct areas: Enhancing the state’s ability to enforce the laws we already have on the books, and ensuring that legislators are serving the public interest,” state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said at a virtual news conference.

To enhance the ability to enforce laws, Republicans are backing bills to: allow the state attorney general to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate, indict and prosecute bribery and misconduct by members of the General Assembly; provide states attorneys with wiretap authority; and grant the Legislative Inspector General the ability to investigate members of the General Assembly without first receiving approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission, and changes the composition of the Commission to make its members part of the general public, rather than legislators.

Other proposed measures ban legislators from lobbying other branches of state government or units of local government for compensation . Another bill backed by the GOP senators creates a revolving door prohibition preventing lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for one year after leaving office, or until the end of the current term.

Other measures prohibit a legislator from leaving office and continuing to use their campaign fund to support lobbying activities and require further reporting of statement of economic Interests to enhance the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

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CIVIL UNION STEPPARENTS: The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday, Sept. 24, that parents involved in civil unions have the same stepparenting rights as married individuals and that those rights continue even after the death of their spouse.

The case involved a woman, Kris Fulkerson, whose partner, Matthew Sharpe, died in 2017. Sharpe had a child – identified in court documents only as A.S. Sharpe – with his ex-wife, Crystal Westmoreland, before their 2013 divorce.

Sharpe and Westmoreland shared equal parenting time, but A.S. continued to live with Sharpe at their home in the Metro East with Fulkerson and her three children. After Sharpe died, Westmoreland took custody of A.S. and stopped allowing the child to visit Fulkerson or her other children.

Fulkerson filed a petition seeking visitation rights and an allocation of parental responsibilities.

In 2011, the General Assembly passed the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, known more simply as the Civil Union Act, as a way to confer most of the rights of marriage to couples who were not legally married. That was prior to the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

That law states: “A party to a civil union is entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law.”

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of stepparent rights Thursday.

“We find that, in enacting the Civil Union Act, the General Assembly intended to create an alternative to marriage that was equal in all respects,” Justice Rita Garman wrote for the court. “This intent was not limited to partners’ rights as to each other.”

The case now goes back to circuit court for a judge to decide how much visitation and parental responsibility Fulkerson will have.

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BREONNA TAYLOR REACTION: Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned a Jefferson County, Kentucky, grand jury’s decision to not charge Louisville officers in the March shooting death of Breonna Taylor and called for protests of the decision to be peaceful.

“This is, to put it simply, a gross miscarriage of justice,” Pritzker said at a joint news conference with Lightfoot and others Wednesday, Sept. 23. “The circumstances surrounding Breonna Taylor’s death brings an overwhelming sense of rage, of passion, of sorrow, to so many… Our justice system has a long history of failing Black Americans.”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Wednesday that only one officer, Brett Hankison, would be indicted on three charges of wanton endangerment for shooting 10 rounds into an apartment neighboring Taylor’s that was occupied by three people. Hankison was fired by the Louisville Metro Police Department in June.

The indictment does not mention Taylor or her death. According to Cameron, the FBI is still investigating whether officers violated Taylor’s civil rights.

Taylor was killed after three plainclothes LMPD officers, including Hankison, were serving a warrant looking for her ex-boyfriend and entered her apartment. Taylor’s current boyfriend at the time, a legal gun owner, fired once, at what he said he believed were intruders, wounding an officer. Officers returned fire more than 30 times, killing Taylor in her hallway.

Anticipating public protest and large gatherings in the aftermath of the announcement, Lightfoot called for peace.

“I know that many, upon hearing of this verdict, will feel confusion and anger and disbelief and many of you will want to express yourselves,” Lightfoot said. “I want you to know that I support you and will do everything in my power to protect you as you voice your righteous anger.”

At an unrelated news conference earlier in the day, Pritzker said the National Guard was at the ready but the state wouldn’t activate soldiers “until they’re needed.”

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POSITIVITY RATE 'TOO HIGH:' While Illinois’ rolling average COVID-19 positivity rate remains lower than surrounding states, Gov. JB Pritzker said once again Wednesday, Sept. 23, it is still too high to resume a level of normalcy beyond mitigations currently in place.

The rolling seven-day average positivity rate in the state remained at 3.5 percent Wednesday for the fifth straight day, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which reported another 1,848 new cases of the virus among 46,391 test results reported over the previous 24 hours.

“I would love it if we could get below 2 percent, that would be terrific,” Pritzker said. “We're not anywhere near that right now. And what has happened is that Illinois, even though we've got the best positivity rate among all of our neighboring states, it's still a concerning positivity rate.”

The governor once again said unequivocally he is listening to medical experts when it comes to allowing fall sports with a high risk of transmission. The expert recommendations are to not allow contact sports such as wrestling and football at this time. Sports such as football and volleyball have been tentatively rescheduled for the spring.

As for schooling, the state has let local school districts decide the best method for engaging students.

“Our schools are a priority, we want to make sure that kids are back in school,” Pritzker said. “There are many kids who are in hybrid programs, and many kids who are not at all in school, they’re just in e-learning. And the further we can drive this positivity rate down, the more I'm looking forward to the idea that kids will be able to get back in school.”

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COVID-19 UPDATE: Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have jumped sharply, according to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, while the number of continued unemployment claims in the state increased from the week prior.

Hospitalizations and intensive care bed usage by persons with COVID-19 increased to highs not seen since June as of the end of the day Wednesday, Sept. 24. While the numbers often fluctuate significantly on a daily basis, the 1,713 hospitalizations for the virus were the most since there were 1,852 on June 18. The 400 intensive care beds in use by COVID-19 patients were the most since 401 were occupied on June 29. Approximately 35 percent of beds and 38 percent of ICU beds were available statewide, according to IDPH data.

There were 155 ventilators in use by COVID-19 patients, with roughly 78 percent of the machines still available.

The state reported another 2,257 confirmed cases of the virus Thursday among 62,071 test results reported, making for a one-day positivity rate of 3.6 percent. That kept the rolling, seven-day average rate at 3.5 percent for the sixth day in a row.

Another 30 virus-related deaths drove the total to 8,538 among 281,371 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. Nearly 5.3 million tests have been conducted.

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5 MILLION TESTS: After the state surpassed 5 million COVID-19 tests over the weekend, Gov. JB Pritzker and health officials touted the expansion of testing efforts at a news conference Monday, Sept. 21.

Illinois Department of Public Health labs have conducted more than 615,000 COVID-19 tests, which is approximately 12 percent of all tests done in the state since the pandemic began, according to the governor’s office.

“The only way right now to control this pandemic is to reduce exposure through masking and social distancing, and we're marrying that with a strong statewide testing program,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at the news conference.

While testing is one of the main reasons the state’s positivity rate remains low, the governor said it does not mean certain precautions can be lifted.

He once again stood by a decision not to allow for fall contact sports such as football despite other states’ decisions to let sports proceed. He said football participants could take part in drills and warmups, but contact could facilitate the virus’ spread.

He said a concern with allowing high-risk sports was players spreading the virus to others, and the state is focusing on balancing everyday activities with public safety.

Pritzker’s office said the state’s testing operation has approximately 300 locations, including more than 100 Federally Qualified Health Centers and 25 state testing sites and teams.

The state also has mobile testing capacity, some of which is currently deployed in the Metro East.

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DRIVER’S LICENSE DEADLINE EXTENSION: Expiration dates on Illinois driver’s licenses and state ID cards will be extended another three months, Secretary of State Jesse White announce Wednesday, Sept. 23.

White announced expirations for licenses and IDs will be extended until Feb. 1, 2021, so the cards will remain valid throughout that span. The extension applies to those who have October, November, December and January expiration dates.

License plate stickers remain extended until Nov. 1, 2020, as they can be renewed online. White encouraged those who have business with the secretary of state to consider using online services instead of visiting a facility when possible.

Online services at www.cyberdriveillinois.com can be used to renew license plate stickers, obtain a duplicate driver’s license or ID card, obtain a driving record abstract or renew a standard driver’s license through the Safe Driver renewal program.

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UTILITY SHUTOFF MORATORIUM: Several state-regulated utilities have voluntarily extended a moratorium on disconnections into next year after requests from the Illinois Commerce Commission.

In a Tuesday, Sept. 22, news release, the ICC announced that Nicor Gas and Liberty Utilities have agreed to halt shutoffs due to missed or late payments for all residential customers until March 31, 2021.

Ameren Illinois, Aqua Illinois, Illinois American Water, Commonwealth Edison, Peoples Gas/North Shore Gas and Utility Services of Illinois have agreed to delay disconnections to the same date for residential customers who qualify for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, and those financially impacted by COVID-19.

MidAmerican has extended its moratorium on shutoffs for LIHEAP-qualified residential customers until March 31, 2021 as well, and is considering other options, according to ICC.

To qualify for LIHEAP, residential customers’ combined household income for the 30 days prior to submitting an application must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level for their family size. A spokesperson for the ICC said it is strongly encouraging all residential customers of the participating utilities to call their utility to check their eligibility. The LIHEAP application period runs from July of this year to June 30, 2021, or until funding set aside for the program is exhausted.

According to the ICC release, residential customers who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic and cannot pay their utility bill do not need to fill out any forms or provide paperwork to qualify for the moratorium. They just need to “make the phone call and verbalize” their situation to receive a delay on shutoffs if their state-regulated utility is participating in COVID-19 related moratoriums.

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LAWMAKER APOLOGY: Freshman state Rep. Amy Grant, R-Wheaton, apologized Monday, Sept. 21, after making disparaging comments in a recorded phone call about her opponent, Ken Mejia-Beal, which referenced his race and sexual orientation.

State Reps. Will Davis, D-Hazel Crest, Greg Harris, D-Chicago, and Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, presented three short recordings of Grant from a single phone call, although they said they would not release the full call at a news conference Monday.

In the call, Grant said Mejia-Beal, who is a gay, Black Democrat from Lisle, is afraid to travel to the heart of her district, “not because he’s Black but because of the way he talks, he’s all LGBTQ.” In another clip Grant says Mejia-Beal is “just another one of the Cook County people… Another Black Caucus.”

Grant issued an apology in an email release shortly before the news conference began. She also apologized in a voicemail to Mejia-Beal.

“I deeply regret the comments I made about Ken Mejia-Beal, and reached out to apologize to him this morning. These comments do not reflect my heart or my faith,” Grant wrote in a short statement.

The conversation was between Grant and an unnamed party, who turned the tape over to Democrats. The details about who initiated the call are in dispute.

The Democratic lawmakers said Grant had originally called the individual as part of her fundraising efforts, and that was the subject of their call. The individual returned Grant’s call and informed her the call was being recorded, according to the Democrats.

A spokesperson for state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Grant did not agree to be recorded, and the individual had actually initiated contact with Grant and identified themselves as a potential donor and supporter of Republican U.S. House candidate Jeannie Ives, who previously held Grant’s seat.

When asked by reporters whether they were publicizing Grant’s comments to distract from the ongoing disciplinary hearings on the conduct of House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, Welch denied the two were related.

Later Monday, Mejia-Beal issued a statement criticizing Grant's apology and calling her comments "hurtful, degrading, and wholly unacceptable."

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CHILD CARE GRANTS: Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday, Sept. 21, announced the release of $156 million in Business Interruption Grant funding has been provided to 4,686 child care providers across Illinois. The funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

The first round helped child care centers and homes in 95 counties across the state, and 47 percent of the grant funds were awarded to child care programs located in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, according to the governor’s office.

An additional $114 million will be available for child care providers across the state through the second round of funding for the program in the coming weeks. Applications will be available online in the coming weeks at https://www.ilgateways.com/financial-opportunities/restoration-grants.

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REGION 7 BACK TO PHASE 4: Will and Kankakee counties can again allow for indoor dining and drinking at bars and restaurants as the region saw its COVID-19 test positivity rate decrease Friday, Sept. 18.

The counties, which make up Region 7 of the state’s reopening plan, had been under increased mitigations – including limited capacity indoors and the restrictions for restaurants and bars – for about three weeks. Those mitigations were triggered when the region’s positivity rate topped 8 percent.

Per the latest figures released Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the positivity rate in the region decreased to 5.6 percent, which marked the third day below 6.5 percent.

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UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE: The economic effects of COVID-19 and associated economic restrictions continue to show in Illinois and nationwide, according to unemployment reports released Thursday, Sept. 24.

There were 870,000 first-time unemployment claims nationwide for the week ending Sept. 19, including 25,976 in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. For the state, that was a decrease of 1,408 from the previous week, but the number of continued claims rose by 28,938 to 538,496.

The number of nonfarm jobs decreased since last year in all 14 Illinois metropolitan areas in August, with five metro areas at record low payrolls for the month, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Labor and IDES.

The August unemployment rate was 10.9 percent statewide, the highest rate recorded since 1983, when it was 11.3 percent.

The Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metro area had the highest unemployment rate at 12.6 percent, up from 3.8 percent during the same month a year ago. The Rockford and Decatur metropolitan areas had the next highest unemployment rates at 11.3 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively, up from 5.9 percent and 5.4 percent a year ago.

Bloomington had the lowest unemployment rate at 7.2 percent, which was an increase from 3.8 percent a year ago, followed by Champaign-Urbana, which increased to 7.4 percent from 3.9 percent.

Other areas ranged from 8.1 percent to 9.6 percent.

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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