When we enter phase five Friday it will be the first time in more than a year that there are no limitations on the size of gatherings and most public activities. There seems to be some lingering questions about capacities across various industries about this change. To be clear, there are no limits on the size of gatherings or occupants in Phase 5. We’re basically back as if it was June 2019. Below are some quick answers to Phase 5 changes.
Additionally, today’s update addresses a summer worker shortage, an energy bill update, Illinois Supreme Court re-district pause, and the forming of a high-speed rail commission, and finally an infrastructure talk update.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Clearing Up Phase 5
Governor Pritzker confirmed the plans for full reopening last week. Governor Pritzker said it this way: “Thanks to the hard work of residents across the state, Illinois will soon resume life as we knew it before — returning to events, gatherings, and a fully reopened economy, with some of the safety guidelines we’ve adopted still in place.” Here is a guide for what to expect:
When does phase five start? Friday, June 11
Where will masks still be required? Masks will still be required for everyone, even vaccinated people, on public transit, at the airport, and in schools, hospitals and other congregate settings. The state is now adjusting guidelines for outdoor mask wearing at schools, dropping the requirement in most situations.
What should people who aren’t vaccinated do? The state recommends unvaccinated people should wear masks — and stay socially distanced — in crowded places inside and outside.
Could towns or businesses still require masks or other measures? Businesses and municipalities are allowed to continue enforcing more stringent rules. Businesses and venues that have crowded areas or long lines should keep social-distancing practices if they can. (This is entirely up to the business owner and is a suggested practice)
What about unvaccinated people? People who aren’t fully vaccinated should continue wearing masks and maintaining 6 feet of distance when indoors.
How about gatherings? Large gatherings of all sizes can return, meaning there will be no COVID-19-related caps on parties, festivals, weddings, places of worship, conferences and sports events.
Could COVID-19-related restrictions come back? If there is a resurgence of COVID-19 and hospitalizations increase and ICU bed capacity becomes an issue, the state will analyze the situation and look at the need to go back to the bridge phase.
How do the phase five guidelines compare with previous phases? Phase five is a full reopening as it applies to capacity limits, though as noted above, municipalities or businesses could choose to have more stringent restrictions and there are places where masking and distancing will still apply.
White House ends infrastructure talks with Capito, shifts focus to bipartisan group
President Biden is cutting off infrastructure negotiations with a GOP group led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) after weeks of talks failed to produce a deal. He will instead move forward on discussions with a bipartisan group of senators.
Biden and Capito spoke Tuesday but remained far apart on a deal. The White House as a result is shifting to talks with a group that includes Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and other Senate moderates, such as Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
The president will engage with those lawmakers while in Europe for the next week, and Cabinet officials like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will also play a leading role. The senators plan to release a proposal by the end of the week.
An administration official stressed that Capito participated in the negotiations in good faith, and that Biden “has a very positive opinion of her.” The West Virginia Republican would be a welcome member of bipartisan talks moving forward, the official added.
Biden and Capito have spoken by phone or in person several times since the president announced his $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan in late March. Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has led a group of GOP senators in the talks with Biden. Capito on Tuesday said the discussions were always respectful and candid, but she expressed disappointment at Biden’s decision to cut off negotiations.
“While I appreciate President Biden’s willingness to devote so much time and effort to these negotiations, he ultimately chose not to accept the very robust and targeted infrastructure package, and instead, end our discussions,” Capito said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, this does not mean bipartisanship isn’t feasible,” Capito added, citing legislation in the Environment and Public Works Committee supported by lawmakers from both parties.
The administration official noted that Biden came down nearly $1 trillion from his original proposal, while the Republican group offered only $330 billion in new spending, a $150 billion increase from when talks started.
The two main sticking points ended up being the GOP group’s refusal to significantly increase the amount of new investments, as well as their inability to specify ways to pay for the package. Biden has proposed increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while Republicans have balked at tax increases in general.
The White House this week made clear that it sees other paths to passing an infrastructure package beyond the talks that were stalling with Capito. White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed to the bipartisan talks taking place on Capitol Hill, as well as the individual infrastructure bills making their way through Congress that have overlap with Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
Illinois businesses facing a summer of worker shortages
As the Illinois economy slowly picks up steam, businesses are struggling to find workers. The National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index rose to 99.8 in April, an increase of 1.6 points from March, but a record 44% of owners reported job openings they could not fill.
NFIB state director Mark Grant said several factors may contributing to the worker shortage, including childcare responsibilities, and enhanced unemployment benefits. “An extra $300 per week from the federal government on top of state unemployment benefits are perhaps one of the things keeping people from reentering the workforce,” said Grant.
Governor J.B. Pritzker said Illinois will not be opting out of the extra federal money. Despite having readily available and effective COVID-19 vaccines, he believes many people are leery about going back to work. “There are circumstances as well where people are afraid to back to work and they are staying out of the workforce or at least staying away from taking a new job,” Pritzker said.
Grant said the employment landscape does present opportunities for some. “High schoolers or young college folks who are looking for summer work who may not have had the opportunities in the past may have more opportunities for work in the summertime,” Grant said.
The index also showed the percent of owners expecting better business conditions over the next 6 months fell to 15%, which the organization calls “surprisingly glum.” Grant said if the worker shortage continues, it may be a long summer for some businesses.
“Members who have talked to me about their restaurants and some of their other businesses that they have that depend largely upon a lot of employees, they are concerned of not being able to stay open,” Grant said.
Illinois lawmakers could vote on sweeping energy bill as soon as next week
Senate President Don Harmon said today that he expects a vote in his chamber as early as next week on the wide-ranging energy bill that was the subject of frenzied negotiation at the end of the session. Harmon, D-Oak Park, said he didn’t expect there to be changes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s insistence that all coal-fired plants in Illinois shut down by 2035, despite the entreaties of municipally owned utilities that are on the hook past that date to pay for the Prairie State plant built a little over a decade ago. Those utilities and unions representing workers at the plant in Marissa, Ill., about 40 miles southeast of St. Louis, continue to lobby lawmakers to permit the plant to stay open longer.
Even after Harmon made publicly clear that he wasn’t holding up the bill over the lack of a Prairie State compromise, there have been questions about whether the issue would sap enough support from the compromise to keep the Senate from securing the 35 votes needed for passage. Under state rules, bills taken up after the Legislature’s May 31 deadline require a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass. “I think enough of the members that were concerned about (Prairie State) have come to terms with the 2035 date,” Harmon said in an interview.
Harmon scotched plans to vote on the bill at the end of the frantic session in response to fellow Democratic senators who he said thought Prairie State wouldn’t be subject to the governor’s 2035 deadline. A steady producer with a capacity of 1,600 megawatts, Prairie State is one of the 10 largest coal plants in the country in terms of megawatt-hours generated. It is also one of the most substantial emitters of various pollutants in the country. Environmentalists harshly criticized a carve-out for the facility, saying a climate bill with such a provision wouldn’t be worthy of the name.
Pritzker has been publicly adamant that he would oppose allowing any coal-fired plant to operate after 2035. The legislation, which, among many other provisions, includes ratepayer subsidies to keep open financial teetering nuclear plants and more ratepayer funds to build new solar and wind projects, is aimed at weaning the state’s power generation industry off fossil fuels by the middle of the century. The measure also includes a 2045 deadline for closure of all-natural gas-fired plants.
Observers believe that enough support in the House is virtually assured, so the Senate remains the primary question mark. Harmon’s remarks today provide more assurance that the biggest state energy package since the deregulation of the generation industry in the late 1990s will pass. That would give Pritzker a signature legislative achievement on which to run for re-election—one which can be portrayed as responding to Illinoisans’ concerns about climate change and the environment.
So far, while the general contours of the bill are known, the legislation has yet to be filed. Many observers and outside parties are eager to see the details and better understand the implications. Harmon said he expects the bill to be filed this week.
State Supreme Court pauses transition to new appellate districts
The Illinois Supreme Court will delay its transition to implement new appellate court boundaries that were created by a recently approved judicial district map until further notice. “Appeals and other matters shall continue to be filed in the judicial districts as they existed on June 3, 2021, until further order of the Court,” according to the court order released on Monday.
Last month, lawmakers redrew four of the five judicial districts along with the state’s legislative districts, the latter of which is a process required by the state constitution every 10 years following the decennial census. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the maps into law on Friday, June 4.
The delay is needed “in view of the numerous changes to the processing of appeals and the administration of the justice system in Illinois necessitated by (the new judicial map),” according to the order. That includes changes to e-filing and case management systems, redistribution of staffing and judicial resources, training for judicial stakeholders and education of the public and members of the bar.
The five judicial districts that are used for electing the seven Illinois Supreme Court justices are the same district boundaries used to elect judges within the five appellate court districts.
- The 1st District, which contains only Cook County and elects three Supreme Court justices, was not included in the judicial redistricting process. The remaining four districts, which elect only one justice each, share boundaries with the four appellate court districts outside of Cook County.
- The 2nd District previously spanned 13 counties that surrounded Cook County and ran across the northwestern portion of the state, bordering Wisconsin to the north and Iowa to the west. It now covers DeKalb, Kendall, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.
- DuPage County was moved from the 2nd District to the 3rd District, which previously included 21 counties spanning from Kankakee County to the Metro East. The new 3rd District also includes Bureau, LaSalle, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee and Will counties.
- The new 4th District, which contains 22 counties that were previously within the 2nd or 3rd districts, contains counties in western Illinois along the Mississippi River and encompasses counties up to the Wisconsin border.
- The new 5th District gained 11 counties that were previously in the 4th District.
Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly opposed the new judicial maps, which were drawn by Democrats. They argued the new district boundaries were redrawn in response to former Justice Thomas Kilbride, a Democrat from the 3rd District, losing his retention election in 2020.
The new district lines were drawn to maximize Democrats’ chances of keeping a majority on the state’s highest court, the Republicans say. But Democrats claim population shifts that resulted in Supreme Court districts that are no longer “of substantially equal population,” which is required under the Illinois Constitution, necessitated the action.
Republicans also decried that the maps were not based on U.S. Census data, which will not be released until August due to the pandemic. Instead, the Democrats used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data which is less detailed and precise. The legislation creating the new judicial map states that the new districts do not change the “composition and boundaries of the Judicial Circuits,” which are trial courts where cases typically originate.
Dennis J. Orsey, Illinois State Bar Association President, said in a statement Monday that the organization agrees with the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision “to temporarily pause the implementation of the legislatively enacted judicial redistricting plan in order for the Court to faithfully execute the plan.”
“On behalf of the ISBA, I applaud our Supreme Court’s leadership and foresight in recognizing that the changes necessitated by this legislation must be properly and thoughtfully implemented in order to ensure the efficient and orderly administration of our justice system,” Orsey said in the statement.
Legislature forms high-speed rail commission
Even as Amtrak dreams big about a huge expansion of its service out of Chicago, a high-speed rail group here is thinking even bigger. In its just-ended spring session, the Illinois General Assembly created a high-speed rail commission and charged it with creating “a statewide plan for a high-speed rail line and feeder network connecting St. Louis, Mo., and Chicago” with Rockford, Moline, Peoria and Decatur, using supplemental bus service if need be.
The measure was approved at the request of the Chicago-based High-Speed Rail Alliance. The panel will conduct ridership and other studies and report annually to the governor and General Assembly about what should be done.
Amtrak has some of that in its recently unveiled “vision plan,” with the services it would like to create if Congress approves major new funding and states like Illinois agree to pick up some operating costs after an initial startup period. But Alliance Executive Director Rick Harnish has more ambitious things in line, envisioning not only new service to Dubuque and Peoria that’s not on Amtrak’s list, but eventually a 220 mph line from Chicago to St. Louis.
Harnish conceded that building the St. Louis line would cost an estimated $15 to $20 billion—“three O’Hare expansions,” Harnish quipped, referring to the ongoing terminal modernization and expansion plan at O’Hare International Airport. But the expenditure, which would be amortized over 40 years, is more than worth it, he said. “This is something we need to do to remain competitive with the rest of the world,” which has emphasized rail transportation much more than America has in recent decades.
“The timing of the legislation is opportune, with the Biden administration pushing hard for more rail funding and travel rebounding as the country emerges from the pandemic,” Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development DePaul University, said in a statement. “Forming the commission gives the high-speed rail movement added momentum and greater opportunity to build the intergovernmental collaborations needed to move complex projects forward.”
A spokesman for Amtrak said that agency is aware the commission has been established, but declined further comment. Currently, Amtrak trains in the state are limited to 110 mph maximum, and in most areas slower than that. Opening 220 mph service would require constructing new tracks and support structures and acquiring the land involved, one reason the cost is so high.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
|Small Business Tax Credit Programs
Did you know that the American Rescue Plan extends a number of critical tax benefits, particularly the Employee Retention Credit and Paid Leave Credit, to small businesses?
Small Disadvantaged Business Contracting Goal News
On June 1, 2021, the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new steps to help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies. Specifically, the Administration is expanding access to two key wealth-creators – small business ownership and homeownership – in communities of color and disadvantaged communities.
Federal Contracting Webinar Series
Do you need help with federal contracting? The ChallengeHER webinar series offers education and training on the federal contracting system. Below is a list of upcoming webinars.
8(a) Orientation Workshop/SAM Registration
This webinar will provide an overview of the 8(a) Business Development program, eligibility requirements, program benefits and training, steps to registering in the System for Award Management (SAM) database in order to do business with the federal government. Wednesday, June 16, 9:30 a.m.
CDC Mask Guidance
The CDC still recommends that unvaccinated people continue to take preventive measures, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. In their latest guidance, the CDC now reports that indoor and outdoor activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people and that fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to unvaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated people can:
• Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
• Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
• Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
• Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
• Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
• Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible
For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
• Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
• Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations
Governor Pritzker Mask Changes:
Finally, join us in June for our re-scheduled luncheon with Police Chief Dawn Malec and Fire Chief Greg Blaskey on Wednesday, June 16 at Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel. You may make reservations here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-member-lunch-june-16-meet-greet-with-joliet-police-fire-chiefs-6060
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry