Senate Week in Review: March 15-19

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. JB Pritzker unveiled his plan March 18 for a “Bridge Phase” before Illinois is allowed to reopen in Phase 5. Despite some of the strictest COVID-19 mitigations in the country, the state’s death toll remains higher than most other large states.

Also during the week, both chambers of the General Assembly began the process of holding hearings on the once-a-decade redistricting process, but so far there has not been any movement on a shift to a non-partisan, independent commission process.

Also, among the new legislation that has been filed is a bill to provide additional assistance to struggling businesses, and a bill to protect against organ donation discrimination.

Governor Outlines ‘Bridge Phase’

Phase 5 of Gov. Pritzker’s reopening plan won’t be coming this week. However, after weeks of pressure from people across Illinois, including members of the business community and employees wanting to get back to work, Gov. Pritzker on March 18 finally outlined a “Bridge Phase” based on vaccination rates.

According to the Governor’s plan, this newly created Bridge Phase, which has been coined “Phase 4.5,” will kick in when: 70 percent of people ages 65 and older have received at least one vaccination dose; ICU bed availability remains at 20 percent or greater; and there is a non-increasing trend in COVID-19 hospital admissions and mortality rate. Metrics would be monitored for 28 days before the state can move forward. Phase 5 wouldn’t be allowed to begin until half of all Illinois residents ages 16 and older have received one vaccine dose, and the other COVID-19 metrics remain steady.

During the Bridge Phase, restaurants could move to 30 percent indoor capacity and 50 percent outdoor capacity. Offices, retail, and health and fitness centers could move to 50 percent capacity. Conference and convention venues would be allowed to move to the lesser of 60 percent capacity or 1,000 people.  Two hundred and fifty people would be allowed for indoor social events and 500 people for outdoor social events. Theaters would be allowed to operate at 60 percent capacity.

More information is available at https://www2.illinois.gov/IISNews/22961-A_Bridge_to_Phase_5.pdf .

While the Governor claims these new mitigation measures are based on science and data, he has not provided that specific data he is using, nor has he empowered local health officials to adapt the standards to best meet the needs of their communities.

Senate Republicans have continued to advocate for improved transparency to the Administration’s COVID-19 response efforts, and for the Governor to engage the members of the General Assembly in the decision-making process. To date, the Governor has issued 76 executive orders and continues the streak of not engaging the Legislature in decision-making processes.

Illinois 15th Highest for COVID-19 Deaths

Despite some of the strictest COVID-19 mitigation rules in the country, Illinois has had the 15th most deaths per capita during the pandemic, according to a Becker’s Hospital Review article based on data gathered by the New York Times.

According to the article, Illinois experienced 183 deaths due to COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. Compared to other states with at least 8 million residents, only New Jersey (269 per 100,000), New York (250 per 100,000), and Pennsylvania (192 per 100,000) fared worse.

Several large states, including those with much less restrictive rules, experienced significantly lower COVID-19 death rates than Illinois, including Michigan (168 per 100,000), Georgia (167 per 100,000), Texas (161 per 100,000), Ohio (153 per 100,000), Florida (151 per 100,000), California (143 per 100,000), Virginia (118 per 100,000), and North Carolina (112 per 100,000).

The full article is available at https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/public-health/us-coronavirus-deaths-by-state-july-1.html .

The Pritzker Administration’s vaccine rollout also had a very troubled start, ranked near the bottom of all states during the first few weeks. Illinois has made strides since then, with the Land of Lincoln now ranked in the middle of all states for both the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, as well as the percentage of received does that have been administered.

More information is available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/covid-19-vaccine-doses.html .

Redistricting Process Begins

The Senate and House Redistricting committees began this week to hold the first of many hearings as the once-a-decade remap process gets under way.

Every 10 years, following the decennial U.S. census, lawmakers are required to update legislative and Congressional districts to match changes and shifts in population. Historically, Illinois has a notorious reputation for partisan, “gerrymandered” district maps. The existing process is a winner-take-all system where the party in power has the ability to draw maps that favor their candidates. This often leads to legislative districts that so strongly favor one party that sitting lawmakers repeatedly run for reelection unopposed. In 2020, 62 out of 138 legislative races on the ballot were uncontested.

The Senate Republican Caucus has repeatedly called for reforms to the redistricting system, and for the creation of an independent, nonpartisan map-making committee. Leaders across the country agree, from former Presidents Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, that gerrymandering is bad for democracy.

Those wishing to show their support may sign Sen. Brian Stewart’s petition at http://senatorstewart.com/ .

Helping Businesses Recovering from Pandemic

New legislation has been filed aimed at providing a boost to still-struggling businesses by expanding the state’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) Program.

Senate Bill 1615 would allocate 25 percent of future federal COVID-19 relief funds received by the state to the BIG Program to provide economic relief to small businesses that experienced losses due to the ongoing pandemic

The BIG Program was implemented in two rounds, with approximately $580 million allocated to the program. Funding was evenly split between childcare providers and every other kind of business.

For the business grant portion, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) reported more than 40,000 applications but only awarded grants to approximately 9,000 of the applicants, leaving the vast majority (79 percent) without assistance.

Preventing Discrimination in Organ Donations

Doctors and transplant organizations could soon be barred from discriminating against recipients based on any mental or physical disabilities, due to new legislation advancing at the Capitol.

Senate Bill 500 would amend the Illinois Anatomical Gift Act to update how organ donations are determined. Doctors, hospitals, and organ procurement organizations would not be allowed to determine that a potential recipient is ineligible for to receive an organ donation based on the individual’s physical or mental disabilities.

Senate Bill 500 was passed by a unanimous vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now heads to the full Senate for further consideration.