Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
An agreement has been made, so what is next? Just two days of frantic House action felt like a full week, but it is recess once again. Let’s look at what is coming down the pike when the summer recess truly comes to an end and a slew of September deadlines loom.
The budget resolution, now cleared by both chambers, kicks off a flurry of activity in the next several weeks as committee chairs in both chambers work behind the scenes to write their portions of a massive $3.5 trillion social spending bill, assemble them together and prepare them for floor action. Sept. 15 is the target date to get there.
Mid-September is also when the Treasury Department is expected to be on the precipice of running out of the “extraordinary measures” they’ve put in place to avoid defaulting on the national debt.
The House just locked in a Sept. 27 deadline to vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, just a few days before surface transportation programs are set to expire.
Government funding dries up at the end of September, unless Congress can either conference all 12 spending bills (unlikely is an understatement) or pull together a continuing resolution by Oct. 1. While stopgap spending measures are commonplace, starting the first part of fiscal 2022 on a CR predicated on spending levels and policies adopted during the Trump administration is a tough pill for Democrats to swallow while in the majority.
By the end of September, the 15 percent increase in federal food benefits put in place during the pandemic are also set to conclude and on Oct. 3, the extension of the ban on evictions will end. Certainly not a lack of action around the corner!
The application for the $250 million State of Illinois Back to Business (B2B) Grant Program is now open! B2B offers small businesses access to funds that can help offset losses due to COVID-19, bring back workers, and continue to rebuild from the pandemic.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
House Democrats Break Internal Impasse to Adopt $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan
House Democrats on Tuesday rallied behind a new strategy to advance President Biden’s economic agenda shortly after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) struck a deal with a small group of moderates that was threatening to blow up leadership’s carefully laid plans to pass trillions of dollars in federal spending.
The House voted 220-212, strictly along party lines, to adopt a rule that allows Democrats to immediately begin work on a massive $3.5 trillion social benefits package. The rule also requires the lower chamber to take up the Senate-passed bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.
In addition, the rule clears the way for the House to vote later Tuesday on legislation that would restore the portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required localities with histories of voter suppression to get federal clearance before making changes to election laws.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said that writing the legislative text for some components of the $3.5 trillion spending plan, such as making changes to Medicare benefits, will be “relatively easy to do” since those programs already exist. But policy goals such as creating a new universal child care program will be much more challenging to craft because “you have nothing structurally to use to implement it,” Yarmuth acknowledged. “So those are going to be much more difficult to do,” he said.
Pelosi has asked many of her committee chairmen to begin working on relevant parts of the gigantic spending package and report back to Yarmuth by Sept. 15. The Budget panel would then package everything together and prepare it for a floor vote when the chamber is scheduled to return to Washington in late September.
“It remains for us to work together, work with the Senate, to write a bill that preserves the privilege of 51 votes in the Senate. So we must work together to do that in a way that passes the House and passes the Senate. And we must do so expeditiously,” Pelosi said Tuesday on the House floor ahead of the rule vote.
Pelosi added in a statement that she is “committing” to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, shortly before current surface transportation programs expire. “I do so with a commitment to rally House Democratic support for its passage,” Pelosi said.
After talks that stretched late into Monday night and then Tuesday morning, Pelosi and the moderates agreed to a resolution committing to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. Democratic leaders also adjusted the rule containing a provision to automatically deem the budget resolution as adopted so that the House wouldn’t have to hold a standalone vote on it.
Hours later, moderates still concerned that the pledge wasn’t binding enough secured additional language in the rule stating that the House “shall consider” the bipartisan bill on Sept. 27 if it isn’t voted upon before then.
House Passes John Lewis Bill in Latest Voting Push
The House narrowly passed legislation Tuesday to give the federal government new power over states’ voting procedures, a change Democrats say is needed to protect the political power of minority voters.
The bill, which passed 219 to 212 but faces a difficult path to advance in the Senate, marks the second time this year that the Democratic-controlled House has moved to challenge states’ control over their own rules, a push that Republicans criticize as federal overreach. A measure that cleared the House in March before stalling in the Senate touched almost every aspect of the elections process, including loosening voter ID requirements and mandating that states allow people to vote by mail or on an absentee basis for any reason.
Democrats are pushing the new bill in order to give the federal government power to oversee state voting procedures after a pair of Supreme Court rulings weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a multipronged law that gave Washington control over changes to voting rules in states with a history of racial discrimination. The bill is named for John Lewis, the late Georgia congressman and civil-rights leader whose beating by Alabama troopers helped spur passage of the original Voting Rights Act.
An earlier version of the John Lewis bill drew the support of just one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, making its passage unlikely. The separate bill that stalled in the Senate, the For the People Act, drew no Republican support. Both would need at least 10 Republican votes to advance in the 50-50 Senate.
The John Lewis bill would require all states to win federal approval before making certain changes to voting procedures, such as imposing stricter voter ID requirements, or reducing the number of polling locations in a diverse jurisdiction in terms of racial or language groups. States have two ways to get changes approved, including by submitting the proposed voting change to the Justice Department’s civil-rights division.
In addition, it would also subject some states to federal supervision for any voting-procedure changes, even beyond those already covered like voter ID, by creating a new formula to identify jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. The bill would target states with 15 or more voting-rights violations in the previous 25 years, or 10 or more violations if at least one of them was statewide during that period. Even if the entire state weren’t covered, a jurisdiction with three or more violations in the prior 25 years would need federal government approval for any changes to voting procedures.
The bill would also make it easier to show that voting procedures were discriminatory by requiring the courts to consider, among other things, the extent to which voting in a particular area was racially polarized and the extent to which people the laws are seeking to protect have been elected to public office in the jurisdiction.
“In America, the right to vote must never, ever be compromised,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) “It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have in a democracy,” she said, quoting Mr. Lewis.
Republicans largely label the legislation a power grab aimed at taking away the ability of states to set their own rules to ensure secure elections. That became a priority for the party after President Donald Trump lost his bid for a second term and falsely claimed the election had been stolen. “This bill effectively makes it impossible for states to restore integrity measures, like in-person Election Day voting, or voter ID,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R., Calif.). “It ensures that chaos and turmoil of recent elections is magnified and institutionalized.” Republicans have also disputed critics’ claims that measures such as ID requirements or shortened voting hours amount to voter suppression.
Many states made changes to voting rules in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including making it easier to vote by mail. Part of the voting debate centers on whether some of those changes should become permanent or be rolled back.
Democrats say that a spate of restrictive voting laws enacted in GOP-controlled states this year show the necessity of acting on voting access, a long-running priority. The Brennan Center for Justice, a research and advocacy group that supports greater access to voting, said that between January and mid-July alone at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict voting access, including through tougher voter ID laws and policies that will make it more likely for voters to be wrongly purged from voting rolls.
“There’s a lot riding on where our democracy is headed,” said Melanie Campbell, president and chief executive of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, which supports federal voting legislation. “We’ve always had to have our voting rights protected in this country, and unfortunately that has not changed.”
Democratic supporters have hoped to combine the John Lewis bill with a slimmed down version of the For the People Act. But Democratic negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), the centrist whose support would be necessary for a majority in the Senate, have dragged on, and Democrats already missed an earlier deadline to unveil legislation on the Aug. 6 anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
Given the difficulty of reaching the 60 votes needed to overcome the Senate filibuster threshold, some lawmakers and activists have called for lowering the requirement to a simple majority.
Earlier changes to voting procedures were made possible after the Supreme Court in 2013 nullified a core provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination, mostly in the South, to get federal approval before changing election practices. The Supreme Court ruled that the formula used to identify those jurisdictions was based on outdated data.
Public hearings set before future tweaks in state legislative map based on new Census data
Illinois House and Senate redistricting hearings will be held virtually and in person Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the General Assembly’s expected Aug. 31 vote on state legislative district boundary changes being considered by Democrats who control both chambers.
The hearings, some of which will be held jointly between House and Senate redistricting committees, will allow for oral testimony to be offered via Zoom and in person at sites in Chicago, Aurora, Joliet, Peoria, Collinsville and Carbondale.
“We are holding them throughout the state so everyone has the opportunity to participate and all parts of the state have an opportunity to be heard,” Jaclyn Driscoll, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said Monday. Welch and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said last week that they will convene a one-day special session Aug. 31 in Springfield. Welch said legislation to be voted on will “amend the legislative map enacted in June to incorporate the latest Census data.”
A key Republican lawmaker involved in the once-every-10-years redistricting process slammed the hearing schedule. State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said Democrats’ plan for soliciting public opinions and coming up with changes will be “highly condensed” and offer “even less transparency” than when Democrats first approved the new legislative map in May with no Republican votes.
Driscoll said the public hearings currently scheduled will be held before Democrats propose changes in the map. She said the hearings “are intended to inform the public about the Census and give the public an opportunity to provide their recommendations.”
It’s unclear whether there will be additional public hearings after changes proposed by Democrats are made public. House and Senate Democrats issued a news release in which Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said: “Our goal throughout this entire process has been to ensure that every person in Illinois receives fair and equal representation. The maps passed in May were drawn with the best data available at the time. Now that the long-awaited Census data has arrived, we will make adjustments as needed.”
Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, chairwoman of the House Redistricting Committee, said in the release: “Our goal from the beginning has always been passing a map that adheres to state and federal law while reflecting the diversity of this state and remaining a model for the nation for minority representation.”
Earlier this year, Republicans and good-government groups criticized Democrats for conducting months of hearings before specific proposed legislative district boundary changes were known and not giving much time for responses later on. A few hearings were held in the days after an initial Democratic proposal was made public. A few tweaks to that proposal were made before the House and Senate votes on May 28 votes.
The organization CHANGE Illinois issued a news release a few days ago that said lawmakers should move forward on any changes to the new legislative map with “transparency and inclusion” that previously were “sorely lacking.” The group said, “Illinoisans should be granted a two-week period to review changes to maps and to provide further feedback and insight that had not afforded them in the spring.”
CHANGE Illinois Executive Director Madeleine Doubek said: “Lawmakers should actively engage community members in a dialogue about how districts can be drawn to better serve the people. They should not simply be told ‘thank you’ and shown the door by elected officials seeking to preserve their power.”
House and Senate Democrats said in their release that members of the public can provide testimony, submit electronic testimony or submit electronic witness slips before the hearings through the General Assembly website, ilga.gov, or through email at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The seven committee hearings, which can be viewed live on the General Assembly website, at:
*1 p.m. Thursday for a joint House and Senate hearing in the Michael Bilandic Building in Chicago.
*10 a.m. Friday for a House hearing at IBEW Local 309 in Collinsville.
*Noon Friday for a Senate committee hearing in the Will County Board Room in Joliet.
*10 a.m. Saturday for a joint House and Senate hearing in Gilmore Auditorium at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, 222 SW Washington St., Peoria.
*Noon Saturday at a House hearing (virtual only) for the Champaign region.
*3 p.m. Saturday for a Senate hearing in the Carbondale SIU Student Center in Carbondale.
*10 a.m. Sunday for a House hearing at Phillips Park Visitors’ Center in Aurora.
Pfizer’s Full Approval Triggers New Vaccine Mandates
The full federal approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday immediately, as expected, led to new vaccination mandates by government entities, a development that suggests more could be coming.
Immediately after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to the vaccine Monday, New York City announced that all public school teachers and staff will be required to get the shot. The Pentagon later confirmed that it would move forward with a vaccine mandate for military service members. Biden administration officials believe that the private sector will follow suit.
“For businesses and universities that have been thinking about putting vaccine requirements in place in order to create safer spaces for people to work and learn, I think that this move from the FDA, when it comes, will actually help them to move forward with those kinds of plans,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday, prior to the FDA announcement.
A few dozen corporations, including Microsoft, Tyson Foods, Walt Disney and Netflix, announced vaccine requirements after the Biden administration mandated vaccinations for federal employees late last month.
More companies will implement their own vaccine requirements following the FDA decision, said Michelle Strowhiro, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery who advises businesses on COVID-19 employment issues. “Many employers, even though they could’ve implemented a vaccine mandate pre-FDA approval, have been waiting for full FDA approval because they believe their employees will be more receptive to a vaccine mandate,” she said.
Employers could already legally enforce vaccine requirements, but some have privately fretted about losing employees who were not willing to get vaccinated.
FDA approval could sway some workers who have been hesitant thus far. A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31 percent of unvaccinated people would be more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine upon full approval.
“What employers are trying to balance right now is implementing the right safety standards for their workforce while also being cognizant of the fact that the labor market is so difficult and many employers are already struggling with having the right number of people on staff,” Strowhiro said.
Vaccine mandates that have already been announced provide religious and medical exemptions required under federal employment rules. Some mandates allow workers to undergo frequent COVID-19 testing instead of getting the jab.
Chevron became the first major oil and gas company to require vaccinations for some of its employees Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported. The company is reportedly weighing a mandate for all of its employees amid rising infections.
The FDA’s approval is accelerating vaccinations in some workplaces that have already implemented their own mandates.
Earlier this month, United Airlines announced it would require all 67,000 of its U.S. employees to get vaccinated within five weeks of FDA approval or Oct. 25, whichever comes first. A United Airlines spokesperson confirmed Monday that all eligible workers must get vaccinated by Sept. 27 or risk getting fired.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced last week that it would mandate vaccines for all employees, including virtual workers, following FDA approval.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci told reporters earlier this month that full FDA approval would bring “a flood” of vaccine mandates to businesses and schools.
The FDA decision has already emboldened multiple states to implement vaccine mandates for public school employees. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced Monday that all state employees, including educators, would be required to get vaccinated by Oct. 18 or undergo regular testing.
Local school districts will also have more freedom to require their workers to get vaccinated.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) withdrew a lawsuit against San Antonio’s school district over its vaccine mandate Monday, KSAT News reported. Paxton had argued that the district’s policy violated an executive order prohibiting governmental entities from mandating vaccines that were only approved for emergency use.
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, endorsed vaccine requirements for educators earlier this month. The American Federation of Teachers said it would look to negotiate vaccine mandates with employers.
Pritzker says ‘very significant’ COVID measures could be coming
Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned that more extensive mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for state workers may well be on the way soon. The governor stopped short of taking any action today, though he did say Mayor Lori Lightfoot would be within her rights to proceed with plans to require vaccinations for city workers.
“We’re always looking at the menu of options we have,” Pritzker said when questioned at an unrelated press conference. The state already requires masks to be worn under many circumstances in state buildings and has ordered workers in nursing homes and other congregate settings to be vaccinated.
COVID hospitalization rates have spiked in Kentucky, which borders the southeastern end of Illinois, stressing that state’s ability to handle patients, Pritzker said. “If that happens (here), we’re going to have to impose some very significant mitigations,” he said. As of Monday night, only one ICU bed was available in Region 5 of the state’s reopening plan, which is southern Illinois. Others ranged from 21 to 161 in Chicago.
“If hospitals continue to fill, if the hospital beds and ICU get full like they are in Kentucky – that’s just next door to Illinois – if that happens, we’re going to have to impose significantly greater mitigations,” Pritzker said.
The positivity rate has leveled at about 5 percent recently, and on a weekly basis, ICU beds increased by 28 percent from the week before as of Monday. ICU usage reached a high since February at 525 as of Monday night.
“So those are things that we don’t want to go back to,” Pritzker said of potential mitigations. “Those are, you know, phases, situations, things on the menu that I think we don’t want to go to. But, right now… we want everybody to wear a mask everywhere indoors. We’ve recommended that, that’s what the CDC has recommended, and then we’ve got a variety of mandates already in place.”
Mitigations in place include masking at all schools, vaccination requirements for all state employees in congregate settings, and masks in state buildings.
Some other states are going even further, implementing steps that affect the public. Hawaii Gov. David Ige has imposed restrictions on crowd sizes—both indoor and outdoor—of the type Illinois dispensed with months ago.
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry