SPRINGFIELD — Democrats in the General Assembly pushed through a new set of legislative maps during a one-day special session this week, although the process they used sparked the ire of Republicans and voting rights advocates alike.
If accepted by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, as they are expected to be, the new maps would replace those adopted in May, which were passed without the benefit of official 2020 U.S. Census data. But they will also have to pass muster with a federal court, where two lawsuits are pending, and possibly the Illinois Supreme Court.
The plan adopted Tuesday night was actually the third draft of a redistricting plan that had been introduced in the span of less than 48 hours. The first was formally released Monday afternoon and was the subject of a contentious public hearing that night. A second, amended version was introduced Tuesday morning, barely one hour before the start of a hearing in the House Redistricting Committee, and that plan was changed slightly again just before the House came into session to debate the package.
Advocates testified virtually during a hearing that was originally scheduled for 10 a.m., but which had to be postponed because the bill containing the new proposal, House Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 927, wasn’t released until just minutes before that time. Many requested the process be slowed down.
State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, who chaired the House committee, defended the process during debate on the House floor.
Republicans, however, complained that the web portal Democrats had set up to allow people to submit their own proposals actually didn’t work and many individuals were unable to use it. They also complained that the final maps brought to the floor did not reflect the concerns that many communities had raised, but instead were drawn to protect the political interests of the Democratic majorities.
The bulk of the 1,269-page bill is made up of lists of census block numbers, townships, wards and precincts that define each proposed House and Senate district. It was accompanied by a separate resolution explaining how the districts were drawn.
Ultimately, though, the new redistricting plan passed both chambers strictly along party lines — 73-43 in the House; 40-17 in the Senate.
Latino advocacy group plans lawsuit
Lawyers for a Latino advocacy group told a panel of federal judges Wednesday that the new legislative district maps passed by the Illinois General Assembly the night before still dilute the vote of Hispanic citizens in the state, and they intend to proceed with a lawsuit in hopes of having them overturned.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is representing several Latino voters, mainly in the Chicago area, who filed a lawsuit in July challenging the maps that lawmakers initially passed during the spring. A similar but separate lawsuit also was filed by Republican legislative leaders.
A three-judge federal panel in Chicago presiding over both cases held a status hearing Wednesday to determine how the case should proceed in light of the General Assembly’s actions.
When official census numbers were finally released in August, they showed the overall population of Illinois had declined by 7,893, to a little more than 12.8 million. But MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera noted that the Latino population grew by nearly 310,000.
Despite that, he said, in the new maps approved by lawmakers Tuesday night, which are now awaiting Pritzker’s approval, the number of House districts in which Latino voters make up a majority of the voting-age population would shrink to four, instead of the current five. The number of majority-Latino Senate districts would shrink to two, instead of the current three.
Herrera said that could constitute a violation Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Attorneys for both sets of plaintiffs indicated that they intend to file amended complaints to include challenges to the latest set of maps.
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr., who presides over the three-judge panel, suggested that the entire issue of the original maps could become moot if Pritzker approves the new set of maps before the court has a chance to act on the original redistricting plan. He also indicated that any question of invoking the state constitution to form a bipartisan commission would be a matter for the Illinois Supreme Court to decide, not the federal district court.
A trial in the case had tentatively been set for Sept. 27-29, but that is now certain to change because lawyers for both sets of plaintiffs said they will need at least a month to file their amended complaints.
The judges did not immediately set a date for the next hearing.
Energy bill inches ahead
The Illinois Senate approved an energy bill in the early hours of Wednesday morning, but negotiations will continue in the House, which has not set a date as to when it will return.
The measure, Senate Bill 18, was filed just before midnight Tuesday after another measure contained in several amendments to House Bill 3666 failed to gain the support of environmental groups, the governor and the House speaker during negotiations earlier in the day.
Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, sponsored both bills, hailing the measure that passed Wednesday morning as “the most equitable, diverse and inclusive clean energy bill in the entire country.”
It’s a wide-ranging bill creating and funding equity-based training programs, subsidizing nuclear plants and renewable energy and more.
But downstate Republicans noted only one nuclear plant provides energy downstate on the MISO grid, so goals of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050 would be more difficult to reach.
Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, warned that downstate might end up having to rely on fossil fuels from neighboring states if coal and gas plants go entirely offline within the stated time frames. He also expressed concerns about language allowing a private company to invoke eminent domain, which Hastings said applies one time in seven counties for the purpose of a single transmission line.
As it stands, bill negotiators estimated the cost of the bill at about a $3.55 increase to the average residential customer, a $34 increase to commercial user bills and a $31,136 increase to the average industrial bill.
That includes subsidies for nuclear plants owned by Exelon, as well as an increase to the rate cap for the pot of money that funds renewable energy projects.
Representatives of the solar industry have warned of a funding cliff for new projects without an increase to the rate cap. Representatives of the labor unions have warned that inaction could lead to the closure of two nuclear plants within two weeks, costing 28,000 jobs.
Lawmakers made progress in bridging a gap between environmentalists and organized labor by adding a hard closure date of 2045 for the Prairie State Energy campus in the Metro East. But environmental groups and the governor’s office have advocated for a hard closure date as well as phased carbon emission caps that increase over time.
Ethics bill fails
The Illinois House failed to muster the votes Tuesday to accept Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s amendatory veto to an ethics bill that passed nearly unanimously earlier this year.
Pritzker issued the amendatory veto of Senate Bill 539 Friday, saying he supports the legislation but would like to see a minor change in language dealing with the office of executive inspector general.
The Senate approved that technical change unanimously, but the trouble for the governor came in the House as Republicans removed their support for the bill and not enough Democrats remained in the chamber just before 10 p.m. Tuesday to reach the three-fifths vote needed for it to pass.
The failed vote does not kill the measure, however, as lawmakers can bring it up for another vote when more are in attendance, as long as the vote comes within a 15-day window from Tuesday.
Among other things, the bill would have prohibited legislators and constitutional officers from engaging in “compensated lobbying” of a municipality, county or township. The same would have applied to elected and appointed executive or legislative officials of county, municipal or township governments.
It also would have given the legislative inspector general independent authority to launch investigations, but only after a formal complaint is filed. It would have restricted those investigations to matters that arise out of government service or employment, not to outside employment.
Soon after it passed nearly unanimously in June, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced that she would resign, effective Dec. 15, calling the job a “paper tiger.” She specifically alleged the provision limiting her ability to investigate non-governmental ethics violations, and the fact that a complaint would be required for an investigation, tied her hands.
Following that announcement, some legislative Republicans called on Pritzker to use his amendatory veto power to send the bill back for revisions, “striking the provisions that would disempower the legislative inspector general.”
On Tuesday during floor debate, Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, evoked Pope’s resignation and noted Pritzker didn’t take any proposed GOP changes into account.
The House sponsore, Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, said Friday she would try again to bring the bill for a vote if lawmakers return within the 15-day constitutional window to accept the amendatory veto.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker was dealt another blow when lawmakers overrode his veto of a bill that removes non-emergency ambulance services from Medicaid managed care and places it back in a fee-for-service structure.
The bill passed each chamber unanimously earlier this year and the veto was overridden with only one vote against in the House. The Senate approved the override unanimously Tuesday night.
The measure would transfer the review of claims from managed care organizations, or MCOs, which are private insurance companies that oversee most Medicaid services in the state. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which opposed the bill, would be the entity handling those claims under the bill. They already do so for emergency ambulance services, a change made in April.
The Illinois State Ambulance Association said the measure, House Bill 684, is needed to counter arbitrary denials of claims by private insurers. The governor’s office and HFS, however, expressed “serious concerns for patient safety and cost.”
In his veto message, Pritzker said the bill “has the potential to disrupt care and reduce the quality of provided medical transportation services to some of the most vulnerable Illinoisans.”
But ambulance services said payment delays from MCOs threatened staffing, and the change would simply provide a way to “get paid for the services provided.”
Lawmakers sided with the ambulance providers over the governor, HFS and the MCOs.
Lawmakers accepted an amendatory veto that aims to fix a technical issue on a bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker supported. The measure, Senate Bill 967, will expand the current Illinois Medicaid plan “so that individuals who don’t qualify for full benefit Medicaid still have coverage for preventive contraceptive care and associated screenings related to reproductive well-being,” according to the governor’s office.
The bill passed each chamber unanimously Tuesday after the amendatory veto changed only an effective date.
State Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, the bill’s Senate sponsor, noted in a news release when the bill passed that it also “would provide support for pregnant and new mothers for pregnancy-related condition, including mental health and substance use disorders by requiring private insurance plans to cover postpartum complications up to one year after delivery among other requirements.”