Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
President Joe Biden is set visit to Chicago today. His quick trip will include two fundraisers and an official speech on the economy. President Biden lands at O’Hare this morning before taking a separate quick helicopter flight to a Soldier Field landing zone.
He’ll then be whisked a few blocks away to the newly restored Old Post Office, where Senator Dick Durbin will introduce him. The President will take the stage to talk about his favorite subject these days: “Bidenomics” and his vision for growing the economy “from the middle out and the bottom up,” according to the White House.
Following his first appearance, President Biden will then headline a fundraising luncheon at the nearby JW Marriott Hotel hosted by Gov. JB Pritzker for about 200 people. Biden will return to D.C. the same way he came, by way of the Soldier Field’s landing zone and then to O’Hare.
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Governor Acts on Non-Citizen Health Care
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s move to freeze part of the program of taxpayers subsidizing the health care of non-citizens continues to get pushback.
Tovia Siegel with Healthy Illinois Campaign said grassroots groups and lawmakers protested Friday in Chicago. They’re demanding the governor reverse his decision to freeze the program of health care for noncitizens between the age of 42 and 64. “Ultimately we do want all ages regardless of immigration status to be covered,” Siegel told The Center Square. “These are low-income immigrants.”
In 2020, Illinois approved state taxpayer subsidies to cover noncitizen health care for those over 65. The program was expanded in 2022 to include those 42 and older. Estimated costs without any controls were more than $1 billion for the coming fiscal year.
The overall budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 has taxpayers on the hook for $550 million for the program. Earlier this month, Pritzker announced he would implement copays for the noncitizen health care program of up to $250 and freeze the program for those between the age of 42 to 64. The 65 and up program will be frozen if more than 16,500 noncitizens enroll.
Progressive Congressmembers Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Delia Ramirez have butted heads with Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget move to temporarily suspend a health-care program for some undocumented immigrants. Garcia and Ramirez, in the rare position of opposing the progressive governor, hope to talk to him about their concerns — and Pritzker says he welcomes the conversation.
Just don’t expect him to change his mind unless the members come up with a way to fund the program. “I’m always open to conversation,” Pritzker said Sunday during a press briefing. The governor said he was in conversations for months with Latino Caucus members in the Illinois General Assembly, “and they knew exactly what we were doing.”
While both members of Congress support expanding the program, Congress has yet to pass comprehensive immigration reform or provide any funding for this program. Ramirez was the sponsor of the original legislation that put the cost at about $4 million a year. The program blew through that estimate in the first month.
According to Pritzker, health care for undocumented immigrants was “saved” and could later be expanded, he said. “But remember we had to balance the budget. The program was expanding at such a rapid rate that we needed to just take a pause and see where this program was going over the next few months.”
Millions of Illinoisans could see higher energy bills next year, but the size of those increases will be determined by a state agency that has recently had its oversight powers expanded.
Four gas utilities and the state’s two largest electric utilities are currently requesting authority from the Illinois Commerce Commission to increase rates. Together, these companies serve 4.1 million gas customers and 5.3 million electric customers in Illinois.
All told, electric utilities have asked to raise rates by a combined $2.8 billion over four years, while gas utilities have requested $890 million in increases next year.
The number of cases in front of the ICC is due, in part, to a pair of major policy changes affecting the way utilities request rate increases and the commission’s authority to amend those requests. For electric utilities, that means a more complicated, multi-year rate-setting process and a more thorough review of profit margins. For gas companies, that means more scrutiny of infrastructure costs.
The utilities are making their case for rate increases in an 11-month regulatory process that is set to conclude around the end of the year. But third parties like business groups and consumer advocates, in addition to ICC staff, also have a chance to weigh in before an administrative judge and eventually the five-member ICC board. The rate changes, if approved by the ICC, would take effect in January.
Customers of the four gas utilities with pending rate cases – Ameren Illinois, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas – could pay between $60 and $140 more for gas per year on average if the ICC approves their requested rates.
Infrastructure upgrades and maintenance are typically a major factor in rate increases, and for about a decade, gas utilities recouped their costs on those projects through a formula-based process that allowed them to collect – and routinely increase – a customer fee without having to go through an 11-month rate case.
On the electric side, Ameren and Commonwealth Edison’s rate plans are the first filed under a new kind of regulatory process outlined in the landmark 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, or CEJA. While the ICC’s new rate approval process is handled in a similar regulatory fashion to a traditional rate case, utilities’ requests are part of four-year plans that are considered in conjunction with a comprehensive grid plan for modernization projects.
CEJA also ended a controversial formula ratemaking process that was a product of ComEd’s lobbying efforts a decade earlier. The formula-based rates were a major focus of the recent federal criminal corruption trial that ended with the conviction of ComEd’s former CEO and three ex-lobbyists.
Consumer advocates have praised the public involvement that’s allowed in the new process and electric executives have credited the multi-year planning process for facilitating smoother coordination between setting rates and grid planning.
In December, fulfilling another requirement of CEJA, the ICC announced that it would require large electric and gas utilities to put forward plans to offer discounted rates to low-income customers and encourage smaller utilities to do the same. The ICC said these utilities should offer “tiered discounts for different income levels,” meaning the amount a consumer pays for utilities would be proportional to income.
While gas utilities have included rate design proposals in their current rate cases, ComEd and Ameren will file electric rate design cases separately over the coming years, according to Karen Lusson, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. Lusson said the companies that have filed rate design cases have not gone far enough in lowering prices for low-income customers. “Each gas company has interpreted that directive a bit differently and all of them insufficient in the amount of the discount,” Lusson said.
Gov. Pritzker Unveils New “Middle of Everything” Summer Ad Campaign, Starring and Directed by Illinois’ own Jane Lynch
Governor Pritzker along with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the Office of Tourism (IOT) announced the launch of three new TV ads as part of its tourism campaign, “Middle of Everything,” starring Illinois native and Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning actress and director Jane Lynch. The summer campaign features a catchy new song performed by Lynch that promotes the diverse attractions, natural wonders, and outdoor experiences that can only be found in Illinois. To view the ads and other media assets for the “Middle of Everything,” click HERE.
“Our ‘Middle of Everything’ campaign has been a resounding success—bringing in millions of visitors and generating $1 billion in revenue,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “With Illinois native Jane Lynch as our shining star and spokesperson, I have no doubt that we will have a record-breaking year for our tourism industry. Jane, thank you for your partnership as we show the world all that the Land of Lincoln has to offer.”
“Through this administration’s work uplifting Illinois’ Main Street corridors, I have seen first-hand how there is so much to love about our state,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “From our vibrant communities to natural treasures, landmarks, and attractions, the people and places that make Illinois special deserve to be seen and celebrated. The ‘Middle of Everything’ campaign is doing just that, by shining a light on the gems of Illinois. We are ensuring all have a roadmap to fall in love with this state and the diverse regions that are core to who we are.”
“It’s been an absolute joy to bring to life the ‘Middle of Everything’ campaign in new and exciting ways,” said Jane Lynch. “Being able to share my passion for all things Illinois comes naturally, and getting to meet and work with so many inspiring people and unique businesses across the state is an honor.”
The new summer ad spots are currently airing in 22 total media markets, on TV across Illinois, seven neighboring states, and on cable TV nationwide. For the first time, the spots will make their way to the global stage with the introduction of the Toronto, Canada market. The 2023 “Middle of Everything” ad campaign builds upon the successful inaugural campaign from 2022, which spotlights Illinois as the center of culture, food, outdoor adventures, architecture, history and more.
“The ‘Middle of Everything’ is a first-of-its-kind campaign that shows international, domestic, and local visitors why Illinois is truly at the center of it all,” said DCEO Director Kristin Richards. “By showcasing exciting outdoor adventures, vibrant cities, charming small towns and experiences across the state, we are not only attracting visitors but also driving economic growth and supporting jobs in the tourism and hospitality sectors.”
The inaugural “Middle of Everything” campaign launched in 2022 led to an additional 2 million trips equaling an additional $1 billion spent in Illinois hotels, restaurants, small businesses, and attractions, according to data from Longwoods International. Additionally, every $1 spent on the campaign equated to $91 in visitor spending while generating $10 in state and local tax revenue for every dollar spent – an enormous return on investment.
Locations featured in the new summer spots span from Chicago to Southern Illinois and bring to life unique destinations along the Great River Road including Galena, Moline, Savanna and Nebo. The ads highlight one-of-a-kind lodging like Rocky Comfort Cabins in Makanda and Harpole’s Heartland Lodge in Nebo, as well as thrilling outdoor activities like hiking through Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna and the Shawnee National Forest. They also showcase authentic visitor experiences at small businesses that are part of the state’s Illinois Made program, including: Virtue Restaurant in Chicago, Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch in Makanda and 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro.
In addition to TV ads, the award-winning campaign will also appear in local, regional, and national digital, print and out-of-home media including O’Hare International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Times Square in New York.
For more information on trip ideas and itineraries, visit: Enjoyillinois.com/Middleofeverything
Gov. Pritzker Signs Bill Extending Cocktails To-Go for 5 Additional Years
On June 9, 2023, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law SB 0089, extending Illinois’ cocktails to-go law until August 1, 2028. The Pandemic-era law, which allows restaurants and bars to provide carryout, curbside pickup, and delivery of mixed drinks and single servings of wine for off-premises consumption, went into effect in June 2020 and was set to expire on January 3, 2024.
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) wants to remind the public and all qualifying retailer licensees about some of the key requirements of the cocktails to-go law. The law requires that cocktails, mixed drinks, and single servings of wine available to-go (“to-go cocktails”):
- May only be sold or delivered by an employee of the retail licensee who is at least 21 and has a valid Illinois Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) license under Section 6-27.1 of the Illinois Liquor Control Act.
- May not be sold or delivered without age verification; the retail licensee employee must verify that a person is at least 21 before selling or delivering to-go cocktails to that person. If the employee cannot safely verify a person’s age or intoxication level, the sale of the to-go cocktails must be canceled, and the cocktails must be returned to the retail licensee’s establishment.
- Must be packaged in a sealed, tamper-evident container; the container must be labeled with information that includes the cocktail or mixed drink name and ingredients, the name(s) of the alcohol in the drink, and that the sealed container was filled less than 7 days before the date of sale, such as a bottling date or packaging date.
- Must be placed and transported in the trunk of a vehicle or, if the vehicle has no trunk, in the vehicle’s rear compartment that is not readily accessible to the passenger area.
- MAY NOT be transported in the passenger area of a vehicle.
- Third-party delivery services are NOT PERMITTED to deliver cocktails to-go.
“We are happy that the Illinois hospitality industry can continue to receive the economic benefits of cocktails to-go, however, we want to ensure retailers and consumers are able to easily comply with the requirements of the law,” said Illinois Liquor Control Commission Executive Director Lisa Gardner. “It is the ILCC’s responsibility to safeguard the public by ensuring that to-go cocktails are safely transported.”
Illinois law prohibits vehicle drivers and passengers from transporting, carrying, or possessing open containers of alcohol in the driver or passenger area of a vehicle, and several local municipalities prohibit drinking or possessing open containers of alcohol in the public way. Drunk driving and drinking while driving are also prohibited under Illinois law, and can lead to fines, criminal charges, and serious bodily harm.
The cocktails to-go requirements are in place to protect the health and safety of consumers, retail licensee employees, and the Illinois public. The ILCC urges both retailers and consumers to continue to enjoy the benefits of to-go cocktails safely by following all the requirements of the law.
Supreme Court rejects conservative election theory
State legislatures do not have unchecked power when drawing congressional districts, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The decision means state courts can intervene in cases of gerrymandered districts and review legislatures’ approaches to federal election rules.
The decision was hailed by Democrats, who argue that conservative state legislatures seek to thwart the Voting Rights Act, recast election rules and use congressional maps to try to elect Republican candidates. The court left the door open to more limited challenges that could increase its role in deciding voting disputes during the 2024 presidential election.
Justices in a 6-3 decision rejected an argument by the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature that it had the final word when drawing congressional districts. The high court dismissed the “independent state legislature” theory, which would have given state lawmakers nearly unlimited say over federal elections.
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry