Senate Week in Review: June 21-25, 2021

SPRINGFIELD – It’s been more than a week since lawmakers returned to the Capitol June 15 to fix budget errors and finish the already overdue work of the Spring Session, and there is still no progress on major energy reform, according to State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport).

The legislative chaos started when Democrat leaders forced action on several major bills in the dead of the night May 31 and early June 1, with little to no time to review documents with thousands of pages. The significant budget errors, which included a lack of effective dates needed for spending authorization, were fixed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June15 using his amendatory veto. Lawmakers were also supposed to vote on an omnibus energy bill that day, but were sent home when negotiations stalled yet again.

In other action, a major election reform bill signed by the Governor will move the Illinois primary election from March to June, and codify into law voting changes, some of them controversial, that were made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also this week, a “Fix the FOID” bill awaiting consideration by the Governor continues to be a source of concern for many lawmakers.

No progress on omnibus energy bill

In addition to fixing budget errors, the Senate was called back to the Capitol June 15 to vote on an omnibus energy bill that would eliminate coal-powered energy by 2035 and natural gas by 2045. No deal was reached, however, and lawmakers were sent home.

In addition to closing the Prairie State Energy Campus and Springfield’s City Water, Light and Power facility before the ends of their useful lives, the proposal includes another massive bailout for scandal-ridden Exelon/ComEd, which once again is threatening to close nuclear energy plants if the state does not provide significant financial support. Negotiations are ongoing, and legislators expect to return to Springfield for at least one more day later this summer.

Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business noted this of the energy negotiations process: It’s a story that says a lot about how the legislative sausage gets made in Springfield—and it’s not terribly pretty.” Read more at https://www.chicagobusiness.com/greg-hinz-politics/latest-thing-now-holding-states-green-energy-bill

Election dates changed

Gov. Pritzker has signed a major elections reform bill into law that will expand curbside voting and allow polling places in county jails for those waiting on their trial.

Senate Bill 825 includes uniform cybersecurity standards for election offices and creates a permanent vote-by-mail registry. The bill also mandates that high schools provide a one-page document of information for students 18 years and older about how to register to vote.

The new law also changes the date of next year’s primary election from March 15 to June 28.

Other changes in Senate Bill 825 include:

  • Permits counties to use American Community Survey (ACS) data, instead of census data, for reapportionment in 2021.
  • Extends the time period that county boards have to complete the reapportionment of county boards to December 31 (2021 only).
  • Permits candidates/officeholders to use campaign funds for child or dependent care if the care is reasonably necessary for public or political purposes.
  • Permits voters to apply to be put on a permanent vote-by-mail list; requires election authorities to notify all qualified voters of the option to be put on the permanent vote-by-mail list.
  • Requires the State Board of Elections to prepare legislation to establish a procedure to send vote-by-mail ballots electronically, and to enable voters with disabilities to independently and privately mark a ballot using assistive technology.

The ACS data is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin to challenge the use of ACS estimates in legislative maps. The lawsuit argues that the use of ACS estimates violates federal law, including well-established “one-person, one-vote” principles under the U.S. Constitution. More than 50 good government and community advocacy organizations and leaders have asked the General Assembly to wait for the release of official census counts, which are expected by Aug. 16. The use of ACS estimates will undercount minority, rural and growing communities and will result in a population disparity between districts that exceeds what federal law allows. Even the U.S. Census Bureau has said that ACS estimates are not appropriate for drawing legislative boundaries.

More burdens on law-abiding gun owners

Illinois’ law-abiding gun owners may soon bear the brunt of burdensome restrictions passed by the General Assembly.

On June 15, the House of Representatives approved a “Fix the FOID” bill that would allow for individuals to voluntarily offer their fingerprints in exchange for a more automatic renewal of their FOID cards and CCL licenses. The bill had already passed the Senate on May 31, and now awaits action by the Governor.

Stewart says that House Bill 562 is simply a gateway bill to mandating fingerprints and just another effort by the majority to assault Illinoisans’ Second Amendment rights. Additionally, the legislation does nothing to fix a broken system and the ongoing backlog of FOID card issues, he added.

House Bill 562, as passed by both chambers, does the following:

  • Encourages but does not require fingerprinting. Those who agree to fingerprinting are granted a streamlined process for renewal of FOID cards and CCL licenses.
  • Requires person-to-person firearms transfers to be subject to NICS at a federal licensed firearms dealer or through online validation by Illinois State Police using NICS.
  • Requires seller to provide a record of a private transfer of a firearm to an FFL within 10 days of sale. Caps the fee that the FFL may charge at no more than $25. Requires FFLs to keep the record of transfer for 20 years. On the demand of a peace officer, transferees have to identify the FFL dealer maintaining the transfer record (penalty is a Class A misdemeanor).
  • Requires Illinois State Police to establish a public database of all firearms that have been reported stolen to be checked prior to the transfer of any firearm to prevent the inadvertent transfer of stolen firearms.
  • Tasks the Violent Crime Intelligence Task Force to conduct enforcement operations against those with revoked FOID Cards.

Stewart said the General Assembly should be looking at ways to better protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights, and pass legislation to repeal the FOID card.