Senate Week in Review: March 29 – April 2

SPRINGFIELD – State legislative leaders took a stand this week against Illinois’ longstanding history of gerrymandering, arguing that lawmakers have no business being involved in the drawing of legislative district boundaries.

State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) says Senate and House Republican leaders came together March 30 to introduce the People’s Independent Maps Act, a proposal to allow Illinois’ legislative redistricting maps to be determined by an Independent Redistricting Commission.

Also during the week, legislation was introduced to preserve the state’s nuclear generating facilities. Senate Republicans are also recognizing Autism Awareness Day, and kicking off a Preposterous Proposals series that highlights questionable legislation pending in the General Assembly.

People’s Independent Maps Act

Stewart says Illinois’ current system of drawing legislative maps gives current officeholders the power to draw district lines, allowing partisan politics to influence the final map outcome and stifle voters.

Over the years, Senate Republicans have strongly advocated for creating a system that would allow legislators to recuse themselves from the map-drawing process all together. Polls show that more than 75 percent of Illinois voters also support an independent process that puts citizens in control of drawing election districts instead of politicians.

The People’s Independent Maps Act is the Republican lawmakers’ most recent push to put an end to Illinois’ broken redistricting system. The proposal would give the Supreme Court the power to appoint 16 independent, citizen commissioners to the Independent Redistricting Commission within 30 days of becoming law. The makeup of the Commission would be required to reflect the ethnic, gender and racial demographics of the state. Party affiliation would be evenly split, in addition to members without party affiliation. Legislators, state employees and lobbyists are prohibited from serving on the Commission.

The Commission would be required to hold at least 10 public hearings throughout the state before adopting a plan, with at least four hearings after a map is proposed. The Commission will release a map within 30 days of receipt of the census redistricting data. This legislation would only apply to the 2021 redistricting cycle.

Identical legislation has been proposed in previous years, garnering bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. Illinoisans wanting to support an Independent Redistricting Commission can sign Stewart’s petition at http://senatorstewart.com/News/852/Sign-my-petition-for-fair-maps/news-detail/

Climate Union Jobs Act

Legislation was recently unveiled to build a 100 percent clean energy economy in Illinois and preserve the state’s nuclear generating facilities. The newly filed Climate Union Jobs Act (CUJA) was crafted in partnership with labor coalition Climate Jobs Illinois (CJI) to ensure that upward of 28,000 jobs are saved, and millions of dollars in tax revenue are garnered for communities.

Illinois is the fifth-largest energy-consuming state in the nation and generates more electricity from nuclear energy than any other state. In 2019, 54 percent of electricity net generation in Illinois was produced by the state’s six nuclear power plants. Additionally, the six nuclear plants produce 90 percent of the state’s carbon-free energy with 30 percent of the state’s clean energy coming directly from the Byron and Dresden Generating Stations.

The CUJA proposes the following:

  • Sets labor standards when ratepayer dollars are used;
  • Preserves the state’s nuclear fleet and additional renewable generation;
  • Creates a just transition for communities economically reliant on fossil fuel generation and establishes equity requirements for clean energy jobs;
  • Increases the diversity of the renewable energy sector with new reporting requirements, and $5 million for the Illinois Works program to support the recruitment of a diverse workforce into pre-apprenticeship training programs;
  • Provides $150 million annually in rate relief to low-income families; and
  • Reduces the state’s emissions from buildings and transportation.

On Aug. 27, 2020, Exelon Generation announced its intentions to retire the Byron Generating Station and Dresden Generating Station in fall 2021 due to revenue shortfalls created by declining energy prices and market rules that allow fossil fuel plants to underbid clean resources. Together, the two power plants employ more than 1,500 full-time employees and 2,000 supplemental workers during refueling outages and annually provide their local communities with $62.2 million of property tax revenues.

Stewart says state leaders must never underestimate the value of the Byron Nuclear Generating Station. A fixture in the area since September 1985, the Byron facility has been an important source of power for millions in homes and businesses across the region.

Stewart notes that the Byron Nuclear Generating Station provides about 800 jobs at the facility. These are professional jobs with pretty specific sets of skills and if the Byron facility closes, many of the employees will need to move to other parts of the state or out of Illinois entirely. And there are countless other businesses these employees support in their communities. There were also about 1,300 regional jobs in 2019 associated with refueling processes.

Stewart says the Byron facility also provides a strong, steady source of tax revenues – such as $38 million in property taxes annually – to help local governments pay for the services and programs they provide their residents.

Autism Awareness Day

April 2 marks the 14th annual World Autism Awareness Day, bringing attention to those with autism, encouraging research, and promoting wellness and inclusion.

According to the Autism Speaks organization, autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex developmental disability with a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. There is no cure for autism spectrum disorders.

The Centers for Disease Control notes that diagnosing ASD can be difficult as there is no explicit medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. It is diagnosed based on someone’s developmental history. Autism can be detected as early 18 months, but some cases may not be diagnosed until adulthood.

Approximately one in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD, with the diagnosis being more prevalent in boys than girls.

Preposterous Proposals at the Capitol

Thousands of new bills are filed every year by lawmakers in Springfield. Some of them feature popular, widely accepted ideas to make the state better, while others seem a little more out of left field.

Every week, the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus is highlighting legislation that is outlandish, not very well thought out, or just plain bad for the people of Illinois.

The Caucus’ first Preposterous Proposal is:

  • Senate Bill 571: Would ban alcohol purchases at self-checkout registers. Currently, stores with self-checkouts require a staff member to check a customer’s ID before the system will let the purchase process move forward, so it’s not clear what would be gained by requiring customers to wait in line for one of the few checkouts with an employee ringing up the items.