Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
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Today’s roundup is packed with info to catch up. We have new vaccine news for employers, an energy breakthrough, and a local announcement about moving forward with the City of Joliet water project.
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*
Biden Boosts Vaccine Requirements for Large Employers, Federal Workers to Combat Covid-19
All employers with 100 or more employees would have to require that their workers be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly Covid-19 testing under a new plan announced by President Biden to curb the spread of the pandemic.
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the coming weeks plans to issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirement, which will cover 80 million private-sector workers. Businesses that don’t comply can face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
The employers will also have to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated or to recover from any side effects of getting vaccinated.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this, what more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” Mr. Biden said. “We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA-approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.”
The new requirement, announced by Mr. Biden in a speech Thursday, is part of a six-point initiative to boost vaccinations, improve access to testing and make Covid-19 treatments more widely available. The heightened push to combat the pandemic comes amid a surge in infections and increase in hospitalizations and deaths.
The president also said the administration plans to require vaccinations for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. The mandate applies to about 50,000 health providers.
The Biden administration will also require federal employees in the executive branch and government contractors to be vaccinated against Covid-19, stepping up the requirements for these workers after Mr. Biden earlier said federal workers and contractors who work on-site must be vaccinated or face regular testing and other measures.
The new mandates will cover about 100 million workers, or two-thirds of all workers in the U.S., administration officials said.
Montana is the only state that has banned private employers from requiring their workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine, according to research by the National Academy for State Health Policy. Other Republican-led states could take steps to fight federal efforts to require employers to have their employees get vaccinated.
The Biden administration is relying on its powers under OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards code, which allows it to immediately enact a rule if “workers are in grave danger due to exposure to toxic substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or to new hazards.”
That regulation is enacted for six months until a final rule that goes through usual rulemaking procedures can be approved. In the past, the agency has faced litigation over some of its emergency temporary standards.
Some employers also said Mr. Biden’s plan went too far. “I don’t think he has the constitutional authority,” said Guy T. Williams, chief executive of Gulf Coast Bank & Trust, a regional bank based in Louisiana. “Does the president of the United States get to dictate vaccinations?”
Labor unions’ views on vaccination requirements have been mixed. Some have said requirements should be part of contract negotiations, like other work rules. Tyson Foods Inc. reached a deal with its largest labor union. Other unions, such as the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and American Federation of Teachers, have been more supportive and are encouraging members to get vaccinated.
Mr. Biden’s plan will also tackle Covid-19 prevention and vaccinations in schools, where outbreaks in some places already have led buildings to shut down or children to be quarantined. All of the almost 300,000 educators who work in Head Start, a federal program providing early childhood education and other services, will have to be vaccinated under Mr. Biden’s plan. A requirement will also apply to schools operated by the Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Education.
The Department of Education will make additional funding available to schools if they have funding jeopardized or pulled by state leaders who have prohibited Covid-19 measures such as testing and masks. Mr. Biden on Thursday urged governors to call for vaccinations of all schoolteachers and staff.
The plan calls for using the Defense Production Act to accelerate the production of rapid at-home tests for Covid-19. The administration is procuring about $2 billion in rapid point-of-care and over the counter at-home Covid tests.
Twenty-five million free tests are expected to be shipped to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks. Walmart Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Kroger Co. will sell rapid Covid-19 tests at cost for the next three months, according to the plan. The push aims to alleviate the difficulties some people are having obtaining or buying tests that have been in higher demand as cases have surged.
Energy Bill Passes House
After weeks of negotiations that ran down to the wire, three key stakeholders in Springfield’s long-running energy debate lined up in support of an energy bill that got a vote in the House last night. The chief union group, an environmental coalition and the governor’s office said this morning they support Senate Bill 2408.
House lawmakers passed sweeping legislation to eliminate Illinois carbon emissions by 2050, with a compromise allowing two coal-fired plants to stay open until 2045 with the caveat that they cut emissions by nearly half by 2035.
The legislation, three years in the works, passed 83 to 33, easily surpassing the 71 votes it needed to get over the finish line. Even some Republicans supported the measure. It now heads to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it Monday when the chamber convenes in Springfield (it’s a version of the Senate bill, tweaked, that was passed by the House last night).
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already vowed to sign the “historic” bill.
The sprawling measure is aimed at eliminating carbon-emitting sources from the power-generation industry in Illinois by 2045. To achieve that, far more ratepayer funds will be invested in new solar and wind projects, as well as a ratepayer-funded bailout of Exelon’s Illinois nuclear plants. The nukes are the state’s largest existing source of carbon-free electricity, and financial pressures had led Exelon to announce the closure of two of the six in the state, with the Byron plant slated for closure next week.
Privately owned coal-fired plants will be required to shutter no later than 2030—a process that already is well under way and likely will occur before then with or without legislation. Two coal-fired facilities serving municipalities throughout the state will have to shut down by 2045 and will need to reduce carbon emissions by 45% 10 years before that.
Likewise, all-natural gas-fired plants will have to close by 2045, with phasedowns of gas-fired power every five years until then.
In a release, Climate Jobs Illinois, the group representing union workers in the state’s energy industry, applauded the bill for safeguarding “thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy,” as well as creating new jobs and expanding apprenticeships.
Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, which is representing environmental groups across the state, also backed the bill, saying it “will tackle the climate crisis at the scale science demands, and that aligns with our values of equity and accountability,” which includes a timeline for decarbonization and pollution reductions “while also creating good-paying jobs and wealth for working families in Illinois’ Black and Brown communities most impacted.”
The bill ends the formularized rate-setting process that has led to substantial increases in delivery rates for Commonwealth Edison and downstate utility Ameren Illinois. ComEd admitted last year to a bribery scheme aimed at winning the favor of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who led the enactment of the formula-rate law in 2011 over the veto of then-Gov. Pat Quinn.
In place of the formula process, however, is a new system in which rates will be set over five-year periods. The measure will require substantial new investments by ComEd, so it’s more likely than not that delivery rates will continue to climb. The measure does restore more authority, however, to the Illinois Commerce Commission to control those increases, and the Pritzker administration has promised to beef up staffing at the agency, which has been hollowed out over the past two decades.
There are new utility-related ethics requirements, particularly a new mandate that politicians disclose when family members are hired by utilities. All of the above, plus new ratepayer-funded investments in promoting more economic equity, will mean higher electric bills. Illinois AARP estimated today that at the end of a decade, the bill’s mandates will mean the average household electric bill will rise by $15. Over the next three years, depending on what happens with ComEd’s delivery rates, Chicago-area households and businesses easily could see 9% increases or more, according to a Crain’s analysis.
Gov. Pritzker Statement on the House Passage of the Landmark Energy Package
Governor JB Pritzker released the following statement on the House passage of the comprehensive energy package, Senate Bill 2408, that puts consumers and the climate first:
“Today, with the House passage of SB 2408, the State of Illinois is one historic step closer to reaching a 100 percent clean energy future. For many years, comprehensive energy legislation that puts consumers and the climate first has been debated while scientists around the world have sounded the alarm about the growing impacts of climate change. SB 2408 puts the state on a path toward 100% clean energy and invests in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future. Illinois will become the best state in the nation to manufacture and drive an electric vehicle, and equity will be prioritized in every new program created. The days of utility companies writing energy legislation to pad their profits has ended because SB2408 puts consumers and climate at the forefront, prioritizes meaningful ethics and transparency reforms, and institutes key ratepayer and residential customer protections.
A legislative package of this magnitude required bringing all stakeholders to the table, holding regular meetings for more than a year, keeping an open mind, negotiating in good faith, and reaching consensus on a bill that fights climate change and preserves and creates jobs. I want to express my sincere gratitude to Speaker Welch and Leader Evans for their tireless collaboration to get this package across the finish line. To the members of the Clean Jobs Coalition who have worked day and night to protect our planet, thank you for fighting this urgent battle for the next generation of Illinoisans. Your advocacy will leave our children a better and safer Illinois. To our brothers and sisters in organized labor, thank you for fighting for working families across the state and ensuring a just energy transition for Illinois’ energy workforce.
I look forward to SB 2408’s swift passage in the Senate, and signing it into law as soon as possible, because our planet and the people of Illinois ought not wait any longer.
Joliet Receives Lake Michigan Water Allocation Permit
On September 1, 2021, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) issued Order LMO-20-01 granting the City of Joliet a Lake Michigan Water Allocation Permit. This permit allows Joliet to begin using Lake Michigan water as its source of supply in 2030 and establishes annual allocation amounts through the year 2050. Receipt of the Allocation Permit is a major milestone in Joliet’s Alternative Water Source Program created to provide a sustainable, reliable, and high-quality water supply for the community by 2030.
When informed of receipt of the permit, Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said “We are thrilled that the IDNR has approved our request for a Lake Michigan Water Allocation Permit. With this permit in hand, we can move forward with confidence in bringing Lake Michigan water to Joliet and ensure that our community is provided with a reliable, high-quality supply of water for years to come.”
Joliet is currently proceeding with preliminary design efforts for new pipeline, pumping, and water storage infrastructure needed to convey treated Lake Michigan water purchased from the City of Chicago approximately 31 miles to Joliet. Both the Joliet and Chicago City Councils approved a Preliminary Agreement for development of the new water supply earlier this year.
The new water supply is required to replace Joliet’s existing groundwater supply. Recent analysis performed by the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) indicates that the water levels in the deep aquifer used by Joliet and other communities in the region will decline to a point where local wells will no longer be able to meet the region’s water needs. ISWS estimates that Joliet’s wells will not be able to reliably meet the community’s maximum day water demands by as soon as 2030.
In granting the Allocation Permit, the IDNR concluded that 1) Illinois has sufficient capacity within its current Lake Michigan water diversion amount to support Joliet’s requested future water needs, 2) Joliet meets the IDNR regulatory requirements for a Lake Michigan Water Allocation, 3) Joliet’s projections of future water demands are acceptable and appropriate, and 4) Joliet is in compliance with the IDNR’s regulatory water conservation/efficiency requirements. IDNR noted that while Joliet does not currently meet the agency’s 10% threshold for non-revenue water, it has submitted an acceptable plan for achieving compliance with this requirement by 2030.
Residents and businesses are encouraged to learn more about the Alternative Water Source Program at www.RethinkWaterJoliet.org, or by following the initiative through Facebook and Twitter. Visitors to the website can also sign-up to receive e-mail updates for the latest news on the Program.
Schumer rejects Manchin’s call for pause on Biden plan
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is rejecting a call for Democrats to hit pause on President Biden’s spending plan, indicating that they are sticking to an ambitious timeline.
“We’re moving full speed ahead. …We want to keep going forward. We think getting this done is so important,” Schumer told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. Schumer’s remarks come after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key moderate senator, urged his colleagues to hit “pause” on Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan, which is at the heart of Democrats’ economic and legislative agenda.
Democrats started off with a jaw-dropping $6 trillion price tag, then lowered it to $3.5 trillion. Now, there’s reporting suggesting Sen. Joe Manchin wants the total for Democrats’ reconciliation plan to drop as low as $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion (though some people close to him say his comfort zone is probably closer to $2 trillion).
So what exactly will Democrats’ topline number be? Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi are both proceeding as if $3.5 trillion is the magic number, at least for now. Then there’s Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who says progressives have given enough ground already: “That $3.5 trillion is already the result of a major, major compromise,”
But talk to senior Democratic congressional aides and you get a more realpolitik answer — one that’s closer to Manchin than Sanders. Some predict the bill will end up at about $2 trillion, which is significantly less than even President JOE BIDEN wants.
If those aides are right — and there’s reason to think they might be, given how much leverage Manchin has — that means a whole host of items on the party’s wish list will have to be scaled back dramatically or dropped.
The posturing over the price tag is a reminder of how much work the party has to do as it seeks to craft their behemoth bill by the end of September. The process will kick off as the House Ways and Means and Education and Labor committees begin marking up their proposals.
Already, there are tensions over the issues being voted on in committee. For example, we’re told the $762 billion envisioned for education — which includes more than $450 billion for childcare and universal pre-K, and hundreds of billions more for school infrastructure and free community college — won’t likely make it to the White House intact. Likewise, a battle for limited resources is driving the fight over which health care proposals to include, pitting the House against the Senate and White House.
Of course, the dollar total will be dictated by how much Democrats can generate with tax hikes and other revenue raisers — a huge area of contention itself. Democrats could find themselves with between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in revenue depending on how much they scale back the Trump tax cuts. They’ll also net a large chunk of change from the prescription drug overhaul, though they’re sparring over details of that plan as well.
After that, the real fight will commence: How to spend the money. Pelosi acknowledged the coming battles over limited dollars: “Where would you cut? Childcare? Family medical leave paid for? Universal pre-K? Home health care?”
As two senior Democratic sources put recently, the more Manchin talks, the better. Right now, most negotiations are taking place between House and Senate leadership and the White House. But the real veto power lies with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). So the more they communicate about what they will or won’t accept, the better, per these aides: It will force Democrats to come to grips with reality of having too few dollars to do what they want — and start having the tough conversations they’ve only begun to broach.
Yellen triggers alarm bells over debt ceiling cliff
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is setting off alarm bells over a looming brawl over the nation’s borrowing limit that could spark a global economic crisis if Congress fails to take action.
Yellen’s warning, delivered to congressional leaders on Wednesday that the country could default on its debt as soon as next month is casting new urgency on the behind-the-scenes discussions about how to raise the debt ceiling.
No clear end game is in sight.
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry