Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
A collection of local, state, and federal updates awaits you below. Another big vote is on tap out in Washington D.C.
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.
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Will County Executive Proposes Changes to Board Makeup
Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant presented a new County Board district map proposal that would reduce the number of members for the next decade. Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, unveiled a map that included 11 districts, each represented by two members, during a meeting Thursday. The existing map has 13 two-member districts.
Bertino-Tarrant said in a statement that her map proposal “best represents our diverse array of communities” while reducing costs with a “more efficient” structure. “This plan aligns with the current population trends, keeps local communities intact and prepares future boards for the continued growth of Will County,” Bertino-Tarrant said in the statement.
She said her proposal keeps municipalities together and maintains “communities of interest,” one of the legal mandates for redrawing legislative districts. Her map also includes three majority-minority districts.
“It is imperative that our County Board district boundaries align with our ever-changing demographics and accurately reflect the diversity of our communities,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “I am confident that this map factors in the key growth areas and ensures an equitable spread of future county residents across several districts.”
The board has been debating how to reapportion its district map as it has to every 10 years after the U.S. census. An ad hoc committee already voted to advance a new map that would maintain the board’s 13-district, 26-member structure. Those in favor of maintaining the existing structure have argued it best represents the county as both Republican and Democratic majorities have been voted in over the past decade.
All seats will be on the ballot in the 2022 election. Other members argued for changing the structure, and early in the process, proposed expanding the number of districts but having each be represented by one member. That possibility was shot down when the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office informed the board state law required voters’ approval to change from multi-member to single- member districts.
The board was already crunched for time earlier this year, but a new law gave the county until essentially the end of the year to approve a new map. Before officials became aware of the additional requirement, Bertino-Tarrant proposed a 17-district map with one member in each district, but later withdrew it. The county will hold at least one public hearing on Bertino-Tarrant’s map proposal within 21 days of her presenting it to the board.
The public can view an interactive version of the executive’s map proposal at WillCountyIllinois.com/redistrictingmap.
Government Funding and the Debt Limit
House Democrats released a bill to extend federal government funding from Oct. 1 through Dec. 3, punting the spending fight until the holidays. The bill would also suspend the debt limit until 2022. The bill is expected to hit the House floor today where it is expected to easily pass.
The hard part is the bill doesn’t appear to have the votes in the Senate. At least 10 Republican votes are needed to pass it. Democrats are trying to make the ‘no’ vote harder for Republicans since the bill also includes $28.6 billion to address recent natural disasters, including for Hurricane Ida, which recently ravaged the South and the East Coast. That’s going to be a tough ‘no’ vote for lawmakers in those districts.
Republicans have urged Democrats to attach the debt-ceiling measure to their $3.5 trillion package, which is moving via a special process called reconciliation that requires just a simple majority in the Senate. That would allow Democrats to adjust the debt ceiling without GOP votes. Democrats have said they don’t want to do that and noted they voted with Republicans to raise the debt limit under Mr. Trump’s administration.
Pelosi and Schumer’s decision not to deal with the debt ceiling in reconciliation may blow up in their faces, even considering the past precedent of debt ceiling increases being advanced with bipartisan support. Democrats control all levers of government, as McConnell has noted repeatedly while calling for them to deal with the issue through budget reconciliation.
Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight
Here are the five big questions defining the fight over the country’s fiscal future.
- What is the debt limit?
The debt limit — often called the debt ceiling — is the legal cap on how much money the federal government can owe to the many individuals, businesses, financial institutions and foreign nations holding the country’s debt via U.S. Treasury bonds. It also includes money the federal government has borrowed from other federal accounts.
The Treasury Department issues bonds to fund spending approved by the president and Congress beyond what is covered by federal revenue. Once the U.S. reaches the debt limit, the Treasury is no longer authorized to issue new bonds and must take “extraordinary measures” until the president signs a bill either raising or suspending the debt limit.
While lawmakers in both parties have used debt limit expirations as leverage to reduce federal spending, it was not specifically created for that purpose.
Before the debt limit, Congress had to approve and structure every new issuance of Treasury bonds. When that became untenable during World War I, lawmakers passed the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 — a law that gave the Treasury greater control over the bond issuance process but with an overall cap of $11.5 billion.
“With World War I and the dramatic increase in government spending, they realized they couldn’t do this anymore. It just wasn’t practical,” said Christopher Russo, a research fellow with George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank.
“It’s people at Treasury who have a better understanding of the best way to be financing the government’s obligations, not people currently sitting in Congress,” he added.
The cap on bond issuance imposed through the 1917 law was eventually consolidated into a single federal debt limit that Congress increased nearly 100 times before the most recent suspension in 2019.
- Why are lawmakers fighting over it now?
The debt limit of $28.5 trillion was reimposed Aug. 1 when a two-year suspension included in a 2019 budget deal signed by former President Trump expired. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned lawmakers that the department next month may run out of ways to stave off a default.
Raising or suspending the debt limit has no direct impact on the size of the national debt, nor does it allow for or restrict any future federal spending. Lifting the debt limit only gives the federal government the ability to pay expenses previously authorized by presidents and Congress.
Republicans insist Democrats bear sole responsibility for raising the debt ceiling after passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill along party lines in March. Democrats are also racing to pass a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure, climate and social services bill by the end of the month.
“The Democrats have the capacity to raise the debt limit on their own, which is exactly what they should do. They’re spending well above our revenues, and they should associate the debt limit with their own spending,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on Tuesday.
Democrats counter that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and his fellow Republicans must also be involved in raising the debt ceiling after doing so several times without any debt reduction and passing a $1.9 trillion tax cut bill with only Republican votes in 2017 under Trump.
“Leader McConnell, as I said, is playing dangerous political games by not stepping up to the plate as he asked us to do and we did when Trump was president,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.
- How are Democrats planning to raise it?
Biden and congressional Democrats are hoping to use the pressure of a potential financial crisis to push Republicans into voting for a debt ceiling hike. Republicans backed down from similar threats in 2011, when they controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Senate under former President Obama, but not before the U.S. suffered its first credit downgrade.
House Democrats will vote on a debt ceiling hike in the coming week, said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in a Friday letter to his caucus. He also said the House will vote on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government past Sept. 30. But he did not specify whether Democrats would combine the two measures into one vote to increase pressure on Senate Republicans, even though they’ve explicitly refused to vote for any bill with a debt ceiling hike.
While a debt ceiling hike should clear the House without much trouble, Democrats would need at least 10 GOP votes in the Senate to advance it to a final vote if a Republican decides to filibuster.
Republican senators have strongly implied that they would filibuster a debt ceiling hike, but a spokesman for McConnell did not respond to emailed questions on Friday about how far the conference would go to stop one.
If Republicans block a debt limit increase from reaching Biden’s desk, Democrats could include one in a budget reconciliation bill, which needs only simple majorities in both chambers. But Democratic leaders have refused to do so, and it’s not clear if the sweeping spending proposal they plan to advance through budget reconciliation will be done before the U.S. enters default territory.
- What happens if the U.S. defaults?
The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt, but experts say doing so could spark an economic catastrophe on a global scale. “A default would have devastating effects on U.S. and global economies and the public. It would immediately and significantly decrease demand for Treasury securities and increase costs,” said the Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s independent audit firm, in an analysis this past week.
“We have reported numerous times that the full faith and credit of the United States must be preserved,” it added.
The White House warned Friday that a default would leave the federal government unable to run dozens of essential programs, likely plunging the economy into another recession that could not be buffeted by stimulus or emergency relief.
“The U.S. economy has just begun to recover from the pandemic and a manufactured debt ceiling crisis would threaten the gains we’ve made and the future recovery. If the U.S. defaults on its obligations, the ripple effects will hurt cities and states across the country,” the White House said in a Friday memo obtained by The Hill.
“If the U.S. defaults on its debt — cities and states could experience a double-whammy: falling revenues and no federal aid as long as Congress refuses to raise or suspend the debt limit,” the White House wrote. A default could also upend the global financial system, which relies heavily on the easy flow of Treasury bonds across borders.
Businesses and foreign nations frequently use the U.S. dollar for international transactions and hold trillions in Treasury bonds as safe assets, with demand often rising in times of economic distress.
“The U.S. is seen as a reliable debtor in the world,” said Kathy Jones, chief fixed income strategist at Charles Schwab. “When you look at the number of transactions that take place, either in the financial markets or in goods and services, the vast majority are still done in U.S. dollars, particularly in the financial market, because the full faith and credit of the U.S. is important.”
If Congress allows the U.S. to default, it could cause a severe decline in the value of Treasury bonds that in turn could trigger dysfunction across the financial system.
“I don’t think anyone doubts that we have the ability to pay our bills. It’s the willingness to pay them,” Jones said. “Raising the debt ceiling is just an indication that, yes, of course, we’re willing to pay our bills. We’re not going to default.”
- Will lawmakers be able to avoid a disaster?
While there is no clear path to a deal yet, analysts and veterans of past debt ceiling showdowns largely expect the White House and Congress to avert a default given the high stakes of failure.
“The day-to-day headlines about debt ceiling brinkmanship misses the forest for the trees in that the debt ceiling will be raised,” wrote Ben Koltun, research director at Beacon Policy Advisors, a Washington research consultancy.
“At this time, we don’t have a firm conviction on how it will ultimately happen but we nevertheless have strong conviction that it ultimately will happen based on one of the following scenarios,” he continued, laying out four paths to avert a default: Republicans caving on a CR-debt ceiling combination, GOP senators deciding not to block a standalone debt ceiling hike, Democrats including a hike in their reconciliation bill or unprecedented executive action.
“We don’t know which fail safes will work and which will fail, but we see something working out, even if it’s not pretty,” Koltun wrote.
IDFPR Announces Renewal Period Now Open for Eligible Professional Licensees
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) today announced that licensees in several professions can now renew their licenses online. In addition, licensees’ renewal deadlines have been extended to December 31, 2021. The Department is encouraging eligible licensees to submit renewal materials as soon as possible, as more than 150,000 licenses are up for renewal.
“IDFPR has undertaken critical updates to the online system paving the way for professionals to submit application renewal materials electronically,” said Cecilia Abundis, Acting Director of the Division of Professional Regulation. “Licensees can avoid late fees by renewing as soon as possible so their efforts will not be slowed by a rush to renew at the end of the year.”
Licensees may renew their licenses online by going to the IDFPR website. Below is a list of professions whose licensees will now have until December 31 to renew:
• Certified Public Accountant/Registered Certified Public Accountant
• Dental Anesthesia Permit Holder
• Dental Hygienist
• Dental Specialist
• Interior Designer
• Physical Therapy Assistant
Wage and Hour Questions on the Vaccine Mandate: Pitfalls for Illinois Employers Covered by the Executive Order
On August 23rd Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-20 requiring health care workers, school personnel, higher education personnel and students, and state-employees and contractors who work at state-owned or operated congregate facilities to get their first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series, or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, within 10 days and be fully vaccinated within 30 days, subject to applicable medical and religious exemptions under federal and state law.
Two weeks later on September 3rd Governor Pritzker issued Executive Orders 2021-22 extending the time to get the first dose of a two-dose vaccine to September 19, 2021, and the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series within 30 days following administration of their first dose in a two-dose vaccination series (October 19, 2021).
Following the issuance of Executive Order 2021-22, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued guidance on the Executive Order. This guidance clarified that even if an employee did not have a medical or religious exemption, that they could alternatively choose to be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis rather than be vaccinated, unless their employer implements a stricter requirement that they be vaccinated, subject only to the applicable medical and religious exemptions.
REMEMBER: Executive Order 2021-20 only covers health care workers, school personnel, higher education personnel and students, and state-employees, and contractors who work at state-owned or operated congregate facilities.
If you have workers subject to Executive Order 2021-20, there are a lot of questions and potential pitfalls ahead, especially in the wage and hour realm. The following are common questions that should be asked not only about the Illinois Governor’s vaccine mandate, but the President’s proposed OSHA rule on vaccines and other state vaccine mandates.
Do employers need to pay for the time employees spend getting vaccinated? The answer depends on whether the employer is simply complying with the Executive Order or taking it a step farther by requiring employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Illinois Dept. of Labor (IDOL) guidance provides that if an employer requires employees to get vaccinated, the time spent obtaining the vaccination is likely compensable – even if it is non-working time. However, for optional vaccination programs, the IDOL states employees that choose to obtain the vaccine voluntarily should be allowed to utilize sick leave, vacation time or other paid time off. Based on the IDPH Guidance, there is an indication that compliance with the Executive Order is not considered a “mandatory vaccination program” for an employer, unless the employer imposes more stringent requirements. As such, unless an employer makes vaccinations mandatory, the current IDOL guidance indicates employers are not required to pay an employee for the time spent getting vaccinated.
The importance of local laws are highlighted here though due to Cook County Ordinance Sec. 42-122. Employers with a principle place of business in Cook County (which includes Chicago) must comply with Cook County Ordinance Sec. 42-122, which went into effect on July 1, 2021. The Ordinance provides that employers that have a primary business location in Cook County and who require their employees get the vaccine must compensate their employees for up to 4 hours of paid time per dose at the employee’s regular rate of pay if the employee chooses to get the vaccine during their work shift. Further, regardless of whether a vaccination is voluntarily sought by an employee or required by an employer, employers cannot require that an employee get vaccinated only during non-shift hours and shall not take any adverse action against any employee for taking time during a shift to get vaccinated.
What about travel time and expenses to get the COVID-19 vaccine? If an employer imposes a mandatory vaccine requirement, under federal and Illinois state law, employers would likely need to reimburse the travel time and expenses for the employee to get vaccinated. Under the FLSA, the time spent traveling to undergo “special tests” required by the job (e.g. physical examinations, fingerprinting and drug testing) is compensable time. As such, if you put into place a mandatory vaccination policy, we would recommend employees report the time it took them to get to/from the vaccination site and such time would be compensable work time. In terms of travel expenses (e.g. mileage and tolls), Illinois law requires employers reimburse expenses that are required of the employee in the discharge of employment duties and inure to the primary benefit of the employer. Thus, it is recommended that employers also reimburse for the employee’s mileage to/from the vaccination site.
Is there a difference between Vaccinations vs. Testing? – YES! While the Executive Order indicates that vaccinations are optional, weekly testing if an employee is unvaccinated is not optional. As a result, under the FLSA and IDOL guidance, COVID-19 testing for covered employees under the Executive Order would likely be considered compensable time. Additionally, even though the IDPH guidance states that the Executive Order does not require employers to pay for testing, this does not take into consideration the FLSA and state laws that require employers to pay for the cost of business expenses, including medical tests that are required.
The vaccine mandate landscape is starting to heat up and will be continuously changing in the near future. Employers are waiting on more information and guidance from the President’s proposed OSHA’s rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. Illinois’ Executive Order vaccine mandate is a good primer on issues that employers throughout the United States will need to consider once the proposed OSHA rule is issued and in dealing with any state or local vaccine mandate. As these are new and complicated issues, employers should speak with experienced labor counsel in addressing vaccine mandates prior to implementing any policy requiring vaccinations.
Job Centers Reopen Across the State
As of Monday, all 18 of the IDES’s American Job Centers are back open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. for in-person services by appointment. The centers provide an array of resources for those who are in search of employment — assisting with everything from identity verification for unemployment insurance claims, to resume and job search guidance and help in documenting work search activities.
Those interested in visiting any of the centers in the state must call (217) 558-0401 to schedule an appointment.
Updated Numbers for Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund
Earlier this month, state leaders missed the deadline to repay Illinois’ $4.2 billion interest-free federal unemployment loan, according to records from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Following the Sept. 6 repayment deadline, the loan began to accrue 2.3% interest. The state’s outstanding loan balance and growing interest on the borrowed money used to cover unemployment benefits could lead to significant tax increases for Illinois employers.
The missed deadline also put the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund at a $5.8 billion deficit — adding to the state’s economic challenges as COVID-19 and variants continue to surge.
PRITZKER ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES PRIME SITES CAPITAL PROGRAM TO BOOST INVESTMENT AND JOB CREATION IN ILLINOIS
Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced a new program designed to attract investment to Illinois from companies that will create well-paying jobs and expand the state’s foothold in high-growth industries. The Prime Sites program is a highly competitive capital grant opportunity for companies proposing large scale development projects that will create at least 50 well-paying jobs for Illinois residents.
This program will expand the State’s business attraction efforts, enabling an additional tool to attract companies considering expansion projects in Illinois and will help support job creation throughout Illinois. Overall, the State estimates that it will commit up to $33 million to Prime Sites, which in turn should bring a total of more than $165 million in capital projects to Illinois and spur the creation of at least 6,500 new jobs.
“With our skilled workforce, modern infrastructure, and unparalleled access to transportation and global markets, Illinois already is ripe for relocation, expansion, and retention of forward-thinking companies,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Our new Prime Sites program will further invite new investments from cutting-edge companies like those in the fields of renewable energy, quantum, technology, life sciences and many others expected to create thousands of well-paying jobs in the years ahead.”
Funded by Rebuild Illinois, DCEO will leverage the Prime Sites fund to provide matching capital for large investments by businesses relocating to or expanding in Illinois. Grants will range from $250,000 to $6 million and will be tied to the number of new jobs created. Recipients will be required to provide a minimum 4-to-1 match – enabling the grant to cover up to 20% of total capital costs for each project.
“The Prime Sites fund provides the State of Illinois with an additional tool to attract investment and job creation in cutting edge industries,” said DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia. “As the latest installment of our Rebuild Illinois capital plan, Prime Sites will help Illinois continue to invest in infrastructure that accelerates growth in innovative industries—while also maintaining our laser focus on providing support for existing companies and building a pipeline of 21st century careers for Illinois residents.”
To apply for a Prime Sites grant, companies must commit to creating at least 50 well-paying jobs and investing $40 million in Illinois or creating at least 100 well-paying jobs and investing $20 million in Illinois. Companies must also receive contingent approval through the State of Illinois that they qualify for the EDGE or High Impact Business (HIB) program, incentives provided to companies that commit to expansion or job creation in Illinois. Priority will be given to companies that are located in an economically disadvantaged area – such as an underserved area, Opportunity Zone, or Enterprise Zone – or that are in a set of high-growth industries.
Companies with local letters of support as well as those with national or global reach will receive preference during the review process. All projects must adhere to State of Illinois requirements for BEP and Illinois Works. A full list of eligibility requirements can be found on DCEO’s website.
Governor Pritzker’s 5-year plan for economic growth offers a blueprint for creating jobs, boosting investment in underserved communities, and leveraging growth in regional industry clusters. To be eligible for a Prime Sites grant, applicant must operate in an industry of focus from the 5-year plan: information technology; agribusiness; energy; transportation, distribution, and logistics (TD&L); and manufacturing. In addition, the Prime Sites program will prioritize applicants in specific fields which suggest rapid advancement and job creation in the years ahead, including quantum/cloud computing, pharma and medical devices, telemedicine, robotics, artificial intelligence, automated transport, renewable energy manufacturing, robotics, and more.
DCEO will begin accepting applications for Prime Sites on September 20, 2021, and awards will be made on a rolling basis. To receive updates on this program and economic development in Illinois, visit DCEO’s website or follow us on social @IllinoisDCEO
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry