Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Big headline(s) to the update for today below. A major agreement is taking place to pay off the remaining amount left on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund debt. Negotiations have been ongoing since the end of the spring session and yesterday’s announcement was somewhat of a surprise considering they’ll be taking care of the full amount. We are still going to have a loss of 3/10ths of 1% credit though. All employers will be paying an additional $21 to all employees with earnings of seven thousand dollars or more due to the state not getting the debt paid off prior to the due date. See the full press release below.
In other news, Congress returns to work this week with an agenda that includes government funding, same-sex marriage, and military priorities. Lawmakers face a December 16 deadline to pass legislation that would continue funding the federal government; failure to do so could result in a partial shutdown. Other issues emphasized by Democrats, including passing a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons, are a long shot given their narrow majority in the Senate.
In Springfield, lawmakers likely will take up one matter of importance as the veto session winds down: changes in the controversial SAFE-T criminal justice reform law. Given the strong opposition to big changes in the Democratic caucus–and that the crime issue pretty much flopped at the ballot box–most observers expect only some tinkering around the edges, or “clarification” of language, as insiders put it. Update: There is movement on the SAFE-T Act bill that is to go into effect on January 1st. Full coverage below.
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Governor Pritzker Announces Historic Agreement to Eliminate Pandemic Unemployment Debt, Protect Benefits for Workers
Governor JB Pritzker announced today an historic agreement to pay off the remaining $1.36 billion unemployment insurance loan balance, replenish the fund for the future, and protect benefits for working families. The agreement will save taxpayers an estimated $20 million in interest costs that would be due next September and preserves hundreds of millions of dollars in future federal tax credits for Illinois employers.
The agreement between representatives from business, labor, bipartisan members of the General Assembly, and the state, will contribute more than $1.8 billion in state funds to the unemployment insurance trust fund, which includes the payment of the remaining federal loan balance borrowed under Title XII of the Social Security Act. The remaining $450 million will be placed into the trust fund from state funds as an interest-free loan. As the loan is repaid over the next ten years, funds will be deposited directly into the state’s rainy-day fund.
“I’m proud to announce that together, we’ve reached a historic, bipartisan agreement to eliminate pandemic-induced UI Trust Fund debt, replenish the fund for the future, protect benefits for working families, and further fuel Illinois’ strong economic trajectory,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Republicans and Democrats are delivering a historic state investment of $1.8 billion to the Unemployment Trust Fund. This bipartisan agreement eliminates the final portion of the $4.5 billion debt forced upon our state during the pandemic and saves Illinois businesses and taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade.”
“The people of our state deserve a secure future, one that supports working families and continues to make Illinois a great place to live,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “Through collaboration and a shared vision among the stakeholders who came together in the work, this agreement is another example of our commitment to responsible, forward-thinking leadership that builds the groundwork for a strong economy for years to come.”
“The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for unemployment insurance systems across the nation and without action, Illinois employers would have faced crushing tax increases in the midst of other challenges. This agreement will ease that pressure and provide greater stability for our system, while also ensuring employers pay over $900 million less in taxes over the next five years than they otherwise would have,” said Rob Karr, President and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “On behalf of the Joint Employers, we extend our appreciation to our partners in organized labor, Gov. JB Pritzker and his staff, the Illinois Department of Employment Security, and the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate for their dedication to working together to solve what we hope is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.”
“This action is just the latest building block in our efforts to improve the financial status of our state,” said State Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora). “By paying what we owe and continuing to pass responsible budgets, our state’s fiscal status only continues to improve.”
“I’m proud of the long hours negotiators on both sides have put into creating this agreement,” said State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris). “It’s good to know we’re working together to pay off debt and even better to know that the funds previously allocated to paying down that debt will now go to shoring up the state’s Rainy-Day Fund.”
“The Illinois Department of Employment Security has been proud to work alongside the partners of the agreed bill process and is pleased the outcome is beneficial to the state, workers, and employers,” said IDES Director Kristin Richards. “The state’s Trust Fund is a critical resource, and ensuring its healthy future is in the best interest of our state’s economy.”
The agreement strengthens the state’s trust fund, alleviates a burden looming over businesses, and ensures there are no reductions in both the standard number of weeks of unemployment benefits and the amount a person can claim. The agreement is expected to pass via bipartisan legislation during upcoming legislative sessions.
The unemployment trust was forced to borrow $4.5 billion in federal funds to provide economic relief to the unprecedented number of unemployed workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is the third significant contribution to the outstanding loan balance. In March of 2022, Governor Pritzker signed legislation which provided an historic $2.7 billion contribution to assist the state’s unemployment trust fund via one-time federal ARPA dollars; in September of 2022, another $450 million payment was made toward the loan balance from the fund itself due to months-long historically low unemployment claims.
In addition to months of historically low unemployment claims, the state has created 770,000 more jobs since the bottom of the pandemic recession and surpassed one trillion dollars in GDP for the first time in history.
Springfield To-Do List
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch says the midterms sent a clear message that Democrats have a mandate to keep managing the state, but he acknowledges his party’s historic public-safety legislation still needs work. Clarifying the law with a trailer bill will be the goal of this week’s legislative session in Springfield.
There’s “confusing language” that needs to be cleaned up before the SAFE-T Act legislation goes into effect Jan. 1, Welch said. “We’ll finish it Wednesday or Thursday. That’s our goal, and I have no reason to believe we won’t accomplish it.”
Though they took a Thanksgiving break, lawmakers and key players who will enforce the new SAFE-T Act law have met every day for a week to resolve concerns about the legislation. Those players include state House and Senate lawmakers, state’s attorneys and public defenders.
Welch says there are two areas they already agree on. There will be language clarifying what officers of the court should be doing during the transition days of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. That’s when state’s attorneys should be acting in “good faith” to file motions to make sure people who are dangerous to another person or community are detained in jail, said Welch. “Those acting in bad faith — saying Jan. 1 is when people will be let out of jail — that’s not what the law says in any way,” Welch said.
A second area that’s agreed upon is language that clarifies that a judge can issue warrants from the bench. “There’s some confusing language in the statute as it’s written now that says judges don’t have the ability to issue bench warrants. We agree on language that will clear that up.” Welch explained.
An issue they’re still debating: Language about when police officers can arrest someone for trespassing. Once working groups nail down language for the trailer bill, it will reportedly go through committees where Republican legislators will be able to offer their two cents before the measure goes to the floor and then the Senate for a vote.
Update: Changes to Illinois cash bail statute surface before Thursday’s planned adjournment
Two days before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year, one of the lead negotiators of the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform filed a long-awaited amendment detailing several changes to the landmark cash bail overhaul.
Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, filed a 308-page amendment to House Bill 1095 on Tuesday that contained several changes to the bill’s detainability standards, electronic monitoring provisions, dangerousness standards and other sections of the bill pertaining to the impending end of cash bail. The follow-up bill was scheduled for a Thursday committee hearing and it wasn’t clear if the amendment contained the bill’s final language or if more changes were coming. But Peters said he believed it protected the intent of the original SAFE-T Act’s cash bail provisions – to prevent the detention of non-violent offenders while allowing the courts to focus on more dangerous individuals – while addressing stakeholder concerns.
The amendment touches on several changes that became flashpoints for Republicans in a contentious election cycle and prompted concern from moderate Democrats, although Peters didn’t say if he expected it to receive Republican votes.
Among other things, it states that when cash bail ends on Jan. 1, the changes will apply to those charged with crimes after that date. The change was spurred by concern that the original law’s vagueness could be interpreted in a way that freed potentially dangerous individuals as they awaited trial.
The amendment lays out the circumstances in which a defendant held in lieu of cash bail prior to 2023 can have their case moved to the new system and what the timeline would be for a new detention hearing. It would depend on the defendant’s charges.
It adds clarifying language regarding another portion of the bill which some had read as preventing police from arresting a trespasser.
While it maintains language instructing officers to issue a citation in lieu of custodial arrest for Class A misdemeanors, it also specifies that police maintain discretion to make an arrest if the person is a threat to the community or they continue to break the law.
The bill creates consistent language pertaining to the dangerousness of a defendant throughout the statute, stating that a person can be held under the dangerousness provision if they are a “real and present threat to the safety of any person or persons or the community, based on the specific articulable facts of the case.”
It also expands the number of charges in which a judge can order pretrial detention. It clarifies and defines that all people charged with “forcible felonies” and non-probationable offenses may be detained under the dangerousness standard. It also maintains that individuals accused of domestic violence may be held pretrial.
It adds certain sex crimes, such as prostitution and soliciting a prostitute, as detainable offenses if the defendant is deemed dangerous. It also adds hate crimes, felony animal torture, aggravated DUI causing bodily harm, DUI while operating a school bus, and other DUI charges.
Prosecutors had long warned that the standard to show a defendant was a risk of “willful flight” of prosecution was too difficult to meet, so the amendment widened that as well. It now defines willful flight as “intentional conduct with a purpose to thwart the judicial process to avoid prosecution.”
Previously, it said past non-appearances in court were not evidence of intent to evade prosecution. The amendment would change that to say “isolated” non-appearances are not evidence of willful flight, but “Reoccurrence and patterns of intentional conduct to evade prosecution… may be considered as factors in assessing future intent to evade prosecution.”
The SAFE-T Act as passed entitles a defendant to a public defender at their first hearing, which is expected to greatly increase workloads for public defenders. The amendment being considered allows more hearings to be conducted remotely if requested by the defendant, if public health requires it, or if there are “operational challenges in conducting the hearing in person.”
The amendment also creates a grant program through the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts to increase the number of public defenders in Illinois, although it would be subject to appropriations by future General Assemblies.
The measure also removes an oft-criticized provision of the current law that states an individual must be in violation of electronic monitoring for 48 hours before they can be charged with a new crime.
Perhaps addressing one of the contentions of a lawsuit from dozens of state’s attorneys who are suing to block the SAFE-T Act on constitutional grounds, the measure states that “‘pretrial release’ has the meaning ascribed to bail in Section 9 of Article I of the Illinois Constitution where the sureties provided are nonmonetary in nature.”
The amendment also exempts trial delays from 90-day speedy trial requirements if they result “from a continuance granted at the request of the state with good cause shown,” such as courts awaiting DNA evidence processing.
The language contained in Senate Amendment 1 to House Bill 1095 would need to pass both houses of the General Assembly with three-fifths majorities Thursday to become law effective immediately. Democrats have majorities exceeding those numbers in both chambers.
Washington To-Do List
Democrats who control both the House and Senate have ambitious to-do lists before Congress adjourns this year. What they lack are bipartisan agreements and commitments inside their party about what can or should get to President Biden’s desk in December.
Much of the president’s agenda will be blocked in 2023 by Republicans who will wield the House gavel and are eyeing the presidential sweepstakes in 2024. Congress returned to work with a sense of urgency this week as Democrats look to exploit the lame-duck session to notch some successes while they still can. They want to fund the government before Dec. 16 without a shutdown, approve a major Pentagon blueprint that’s considered a must-pass measure, wrap a bow around funding for elections and other improvements, protect same-sex marriage by statute and even carve out a way to help so-called Dreamers who arrived undocumented in the United States years ago as children.
Democrats are also feeling pressure to work quickly to raise the statutory debt limit well ahead of a potentially disastrous fiscal showdown in 2023 when the cutoff of $31.4 trillion is expected to be reached. Many analysts expect that Congress won’t defuse the debt ceiling conflict this year because Republicans see political leverage on their side.
On the other side of the aisle, all eyes this week will be on Senate Republicans — and especially GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who will have to decide whether to help put up the 10 needed GOP votes to clear a 2023 omnibus.
It’s a close call. On one hand, Republicans will control the House next year, boosting the party’s bargaining hand. On the other, GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (or whoever wins the speaker’s gavel) will be dealing with a slim, unruly majority — one that might well rally around a government shutdown to signal there’s a new sheriff in town.
McConnell has never been fond of shutdowns, and he might decide to clear the decks and spare Republicans one political headache (though he’s likely to punt another, the debt limit, to next year). He also has a crop of allies who are retiring and eager to put their imprint on government policies one last time.
In the end, even if both sides want a deal, they don’t have much time to come up with one. Already, Hill aides are fretting that another short-term extension will be needed, pushing the real final deadline closer to Christmas — or beyond.
President Biden calls on Congress to intervene to avert rail shutdown
President Biden on Monday called on Congress to pass legislation to avert a rail shutdown before Dec. 9, warning of major disruptions to the U.S. economy if lawmakers don’t act.
He said Congress should pass a bill “immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators — without any modifications or delay — to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.”
Biden’s plea to Congress comes amid an ongoing labor standoff that could shut down crucial shipments of food and fuel. The tentative Biden-backed agreement in September was approved by labor and management negotiators, but not every rail union has signed on.
President Biden said that Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have been in regular touch with labor leaders and management since then but see no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table.
The secretaries have since recommended that the administration seek congressional action to solve the issue. Biden said that while he is a “proud pro-labor President” and “reluctant to override the ratification procedures,” Congress has to work to adopt the deal.
“On the day that it was announced, labor leaders, business leaders, and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution of the dispute between the hard-working men and women of the rail freight unions and the companies in that industry,” he said.
President Biden, in his statement, warned about the outcome if there is a shutdown. “Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy. Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down,” he said, adding that union workers would be out of work, communities would struggle to get chemicals that ensure clean drinking water and farmers and ranchers would be unable to feed their livestock.
The tentative deal reached in September would give union members a 14 percent raise, and workers whose pay had been frozen would get a higher wage increase and a boost in medical care. The Biden administration was largely credited at the time by both sides for stepping in to avert a strike.
The president said that the agreement was reached in good faith by labor and management and warned against changes. He said he shares the workers’ concerns about the agreement not including time to recover from illness or care for a family member but that he is working to advance paid leave.
“Some in Congress want to modify the deal to either improve it for labor or for management. However well-intentioned, any changes would risk delay and a debilitating shutdown,” he said.
“But at this critical moment for our economy, in the holiday season, we cannot let our strongly held conviction for better outcomes for workers deny workers the benefits of the bargain they reached and hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown,” he added.
Update – House votes to avert rail strike, provide workers paid sick leave
The House passed a bill on Wednesday to avert a railway strike, taking the first major step in avoiding a walkout of workers that would have drastic effects on the U.S. economy as it heads into the holiday season.
The chamber passed the resolution in a 290-137 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration just over one week out from the Dec. 9 strike deadline. Seventy-nine Republicans supported the measure, and eight Democrats voted “no.” In a subsequent vote, lawmakers passed a separate measure that would give rail workers seven days of paid sick leave per year, addressing a chief concern unions and progressives had with the agreement. That vote was 221-207, with three Republicans joining all Democrats present in supporting the measure.
How the Senate will proceed, however, remains unclear. Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) could either bring the measures up as a package or consider them separately. The slim GOP support in the House for the paid leave measure, however, is already spelling trouble for its odds in the upper chamber. At least 60 votes will be needed to overcome a legislative filibuster. Shortly after House passage on Wednesday, 12 Democratic senators issued a statement urging the chamber to hold a vote on the sick leave resolution and support the measure.
Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) Update
The SBA is releasing what they say is the last batch of dollars related to the RRF program. A total of $83 million will be distributed among 169 RRF applicants at the front of the queue (based on the timestamp of the application). SBA hopes to have the funds transferred in a matter of days, and the funds need to be spent before the RRF program expires in March 2023. Earlier estimates of $180 million in unspent funds were inaccurate, and that this $83 million is the final installment.
Congress has made clear they aren’t looking to replenish the RRF, but there are still a number of challenges the industry faces such as the recruitment of employees to the constantly rising cost of food and supplies.
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Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry