Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”

Chamber members:

Add Monday, August 16 to your calendars as we host our quarterly “Legislative Coffee” with U.S. Representatives Bill Foster, Lauren Underwood, and Marie Newman. We’ll cover topics such as the budget, infrastructure, taxes, the recent executive order, and more. We’ll begin at 8 am and discuss through 9:30 at the Joliet City Hall Council Chambers. We hope you can join us and thank CITGO for being our coffee series sponsor. Here is the rsvp & info link:

Please click on the link below for an important survey regarding the current state of business in a mid-year 2021 check in. This feedback is extremely important so that we can use this in conversations going forward on what type of programs and assistance would be best as all continue to recover from the pandemic.

*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*

Employment Report
Weekly jobless claims unexpected moved higher last week despite hopes that the U.S. labor market is poised for a strong recovery heading into the fall.

Initial filings for unemployment insurance totaled 419,000 for the week ended July 17, well above the 350,000 Dow Jones estimate and more than the upwardly revised 368,000 from the previous period, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The jobless total was the highest weekly count since May 15 and came amid expectations that the jobs picture will improve markedly as enhanced unemployment benefits end and companies get more aggressive about filling vacant positions.

On the positive side, continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline number, declined by 29,000 to 3.24 million, a fresh pandemic low. The total was last lower on March 14, 2020, just after the Covid-19 pandemic declaration and as governments across the U.S. ordered businesses to close, sending more than 22 million to the unemployment line.

The total of those receiving benefits under all government programs also declined, falling by more than 1.2 million to 12.57 million. A year ago, nearly 33 million people were collecting benefits.

Among states, Michigan saw the biggest gain, adding more than 13,000 at a time when auto production has been derailed due to a semiconductor shortage. Texas saw an increase of nearly 10,000, according to unadjusted data.

Gov. Pritzker Signs Landmark Legislation Expanding Telehealth Access
Joined by healthcare leaders and elected officials at Mount Sinai Hospital, Governor JB Pritzker signed HB 3308 into law, increasing access to telehealth services in communities across Illinois. The new law builds upon ongoing efforts to ensure that all Illinoisans have uninterrupted access to telehealth, which they received from trusted health care providers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Governor Pritzker signed Executive Order 2020-09, requiring insurers to reimburse health care providers for telehealth with the same payment rates as in-person care. This helped expand healthcare access for vulnerable populations, including mental health services. The legislation the Governor signed today prevents a gap in coverage by permanently extending the payment parity requirement for mental health and substance use disorder services, while authorizing all other telehealth to be covered though 2027.

“The legislation I’ll sign today will solidify Illinois as a leader in telehealth access and expansion in the nation,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Illinois is now one of the first states in the nation to turn our emergency pandemic response into a permanent reality. Not only that, but it expands key telehealth services like Early Intervention programs for early childhood development, adding to the growing number of telehealth services the General Assembly authorized this year. We are taking great strides to make sure that where you live no longer impacts how long you live. Thanks to this new law, we are one step closer to that reality today.”

“Over the past 18 months, hospitals across the state have made critical investments in telehealth and staff to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep their patients safe,” said A.J. Wilhelmi, President & CEO of Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA). “IHA and the hospital community thank Governor Pritzker and his administration, and the General Assembly – especially Senators Napoleon Harris and Mattie Hunter and Representatives Thaddeus Jones and Deb Conroy – for their leadership and work to make sure the vital benefits of telehealth for patients are not lost.”

Telehealth has proven to be critical in saving lives throughout the pandemic. With the increase in the use of telehealth services, there has been a notable reduction in missed appointments, better care plan adherence, and significant improvement in chronic disease management. With the pandemic creating new barriers for individuals already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders, telehealth also makes counseling more attainable.

To date, only a handful of states have enacted telehealth payment parity into law, further cementing Illinois as a national leader in expanding access to healthcare. The administration has already eliminated the Medicaid backlog, signed legislation to bring $250 million in new federal healthcare funding to Illinois, signed the Healthcare and Hospital Transformation bill into law, and worked with the General Assembly to make Illinois the first state in the nation to offer healthcare access to undocumented seniors.

HB 3308 is effective immediately.

The Infrastructure Debate that Didn’t Happen as Planned
Senate Democrats are behind on their goal to pass a bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget resolution before the August recess. Wednesday’s highly anticipated vote to start debate was torpedoed by Republicans who voted in unison to block the motion to start debate.

What happens now? Negotiators are continuing to iron out the disagreements in the bipartisan bill and will likely hold a repeat vote next week. That’s only a matter of a few days — what would change next week? A group of centrist Republicans will probably vote in favor of starting debate next week, once there is text of the bill. If all Democrats vote “yes,” just 10 Republicans are needed to start debate. This is only IF text comes out over the weekend as expected.

The skepticism on whether this bill will ever pass: “With a final deal elusive, there are growing doubts about whether a group of mostly rank-and-file senators can negotiate the biggest infrastructure deal in the nation’s history on their own.”

Tempers are starting to flare on both sides of the aisle as bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on and negotiators face the prospect of missing an informal self-imposed deadline of Monday for getting a deal. Democrats’ complaint: “Some Democrats are accusing Republicans of slow-walking the negotiations and reopening negotiating items that were believed to be solved.” Republicans’ complaint: “Republicans say Democrats are being unreasonable in some of their demands, such as an insistence on tens of billions of dollars in new funding for transit and broad authority for local governments to decide how to spend infrastructure funds.”

The good news: A bipartisan group of senators is closing in on a $579 billion infrastructure deal after agreeing to pay for it in part by delaying a costly Trump-era Medicare regulation, but they don’t expect to announce details until at least Monday.

Senate Dems Put Legalizing Marijuana on Legislative Agenda
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Finance Chairman Ron Wyden and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker released a discussion draft of their marijuana legalization bill. The bill will be called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act and is expected to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances. The bill would also tax and regulate marijuana on the federal level, while leaving states able to enforce their own laws regarding the drug.

Today, adult use of cannabis, which is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is legal in 18 states, and the medical use of cannabis is legal in 37 states, though cannabis use remains illegal under federal law. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would expunge federal non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing, reinvest federal cannabis tax revenue into communities historically afflicted by the “War on Drugs,” and ultimately end the federal prohibition of cannabis, while allowing states to continue to determine their own cannabis laws.

If implemented, regulatory responsibility of cannabis would be transferred from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The bill includes several provisions for additional research to investigate the impact of legalization on public health, driving safety, and similar areas. Senators Schumer, Booker, and Wyden are currently seeking feedback from the public as the proposal is finalized, encouraging stakeholders to submit comments by September 1st, 2021.

The discussion draft has not yet been formally introduced on the Senate floor. Senators Schumer, Wyden, and Booker are taking comment from lawmakers and the general public, including advocates, the cannabis industry, public health experts, and the law enforcement community, until September 1.

The senators’ proposal goes beyond mere decriminalization, which President Joe Biden said he supported during the campaign, and may be a difficult vote for some Democrats from more conservative states. But public sentiment has been building for legalization, with many states moving ahead of the federal government, including Schumer’s home state of New York.

Schumer has previously said he hopes to enact the legislation by next April 20, though he does not yet have the backing of the White House. Cannabis companies and lobbyists for the industry have said that while they don’t yet know the contents of the upcoming legislation, they anticipate it may solve some of the biggest hurdles to cannabis legalization and help the U.S. industry’s profitability.

The bill may include wording that could reassure banks that they can work with cannabis companies on basic things like bank accounts and loans and propose removing the tax known as 280E that has kept many companies from profitability. The bill could also include provisions that could make it possible for the companies that grow and sell marijuana in the U.S. to list on U.S. stock exchanges.

Other big hurdles the bill is expected to tackle are how to address minorities who’ve been arrested at disproportionate rates in the past for drug possession, and how cannabis will be regulated in terms of health and safety issues. Past proposals didn’t fully flesh out how agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might play a role, and hopes are high that Schumer’s bill will go into enough detail to resolve such issues.

The bill isn’t expected to open up interstate commerce; if it did, that would be a blow to many of the multi-state companies that have built up parallel growing and processing operations in multiple states.

Governor Pritzker says Illinois Could Revert to Covid Shutdowns if Resurgence Presses
Governor Pritzker warned Illinois could see more shutdowns from COVID-19 after announcing his re-election campaign. He said new restrictions would not repeat preferential treatment of big box retailers over small businesses.

A new round of pandemic shutdowns could happen in Illinois as neighboring states report a rapid resurgence in COVID-19 cases, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said July 19 as he announced his reelection bid. While Pritzker insisted Illinois was a long way from reinstituting those restrictions, he said new mitigations policies would look different than what he ordered in spring 2020. That includes reassessing pandemic policies that favored big box grocery stores and retailers as thousands of Illinois’ small businesses were forced to close their doors.

“When you walk into a Walmart, in addition to there being a grocery store, there’s also other things that you could buy. And so I think, certainly in retrospect now, I think what we would say is, ‘If you could have kept the capacity limit appropriate in a smaller venue, it might have kept that open,’” Pritzker said.

Admitting to that mistake comes months too late for the 39% of Illinois businesses that never reopened when the state lifted COVID-19 mitigations in June. The casualty list includes more than half of the state’s food, accommodation, and hospitality and leisure small businesses lost since January 2020.

“But we were following, in a very unknown environment, with a new coronavirus – the federal government was essentially saying to us, ‘You need to keep these things open and you need to close the other things,’” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said the state is reconsidering shutdown policies as the nation again sees COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations on the rise. Pritzker’s primary concern is for Illinois counties neighboring Missouri, which reported a state positivity rate of 17.43% on July 20. “Missouri is… the worst state in the nation right now,” Pritzker said. “And it’s right on our border. And (COVID-19) is pouring over, unfortunately, across the border into Metro East and southern Illinois.”

Governor Pritzker has reassured Illinoisans that a new round of COVID-19 shutdowns are a long way away for the state.

Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information

Special Presentation: Small Business Compliance with Department of Labor
Did you know that most employees in the U.S. are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? As an employer, are you aware of and meeting your obligations?

The chamber recently joined with Andres Mendez, a Benefits Advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division and the Employee Benefits Security Administration for an overview of the COBRA premium assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, federal wage and hour laws, and how they are enforced.

Click here to view the special presentation:

Connect with the Workforce Center
The Workforce Center hosts various workshops, hiring events, and activities throughout the month. Be sure to connect with the Workforce Center and share their flyers and event announcements through your social media platforms.

Visit the Workforce Center of Will County’s web page for more information about the programs, services, and activities available for Will County businesses and residents.

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?
Learn more

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.

  • Use the federal government’s purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent, translating to an additional $100 billion over five years, and helping more Americans realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
  • Take action to address racial discrimination in the housing market, including by launching a first-of-its-kind interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisals, and conducting rulemaking to aggressively combat housing discrimination.

Learn more

Stay well,

Mike Paone
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct