Chesney’s Weekly Roundup- week ending February 1, 2020

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Governor Pritzker delivers State of the State address to Illinois General Assembly.  In an annual tradition, a joint session of the General Assembly listened to the State of the State address by Gov. Pritzker on Wednesday, January 29th, where the Governor laid out his priorities for the 2020 spring session.

Responding to recent federal investigations and charges against current and former legislators, Governor Pritzker called for swift action on ethics reform to end the culture of corruption.

“We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption,” Pritzker said. The Legislature must pass “real, lasting ethics reform” this session.

House Republicans have introduced a sweeping ethics reform package that directly addresses issues from the federal investigations. These are common sense measures – prohibiting lawmakers for being lobbyists, expanding statements of economic interest for lawmakers to mirror what judges have to submit, and requiring documentation of any communications between elected officials and state agencies. We are pleased that the Governor indicated his support for several of these House Republican-backed measures.

The Governor also urged the General Assembly to tackle the issue of property tax relief. Too many Illinois families and seniors are being forced from their homes due to skyrocketing property taxes. Unfortunately, House Democrats have only paid lip service to the problem, convening a Task Force that did not produce a final report on time and that, instead of providing concrete steps to reduce property taxes, actually proposed increasing taxes on Illinois working families.

“There is no doubt, JB Pritzker is a skilled politician.  He would have to be that slick to convince so many Illinoisans that the problems his party created are without instead of within.  After repeatedly increasing your taxes to some of the highest in the nation, pushing jobs and industries out of Illinois and leading one of the largest job-growth programs for self-dealers in U.S. history, Illinois Democrats now want to convince taxpayers that they can lead us out of the crisis they created.  Unbelievable,” State Representative Andrew Chesney reacted incredulously.

“I am focused on an agenda on excising the ethical rot that has infested Illinois emanating from the Northeast corner of our State, working to provide real, meaningful property tax relief for hardworking families, and empowering Illinois voters to select their politicians instead of their politicians selecting their voters through unfair legislative mapping,” said Chesney. 

“If Democrats want meaningful, equal partners in addressing those issues, they will find eager support from Illinois House Republicans.  They will not, however, find willing co-conspirators to their continued mismanagement,” Chesney cautioned.

TAXES

House Republicans call for real action on property tax reform.  As part of the kickoff to the 2020 spring session, House Democrats are calling for real action on Illinois property tax reform.  With much fanfare, the General Assembly convened the bicameral Property Tax Reform Task Force in 2019. The Task Force is now nearing submission of its final report, however, and House Republicans have learned that the majority party currently does not plan to propose any changes that will offer real relief to Illinois homeowners who have to pay their property tax bills every year. Illinoisans have (by various measurements) either the highest, or the second-highest, property tax burdens among the 50 states. The state of New Jersey shares this dubious distinction.

ELECTIONS

House Republicans want investigation of Automatic Voter Registration program.   A glitch-filled program operated by the office of the Secretary of State is supposed to make it easier to register to vote.  The program works by automatically registering people who have certain types of defined official contacts with the State office, such as getting a driver’s license.  However, the troubled program has not been successful at clearly distinguishing between people who have the right to drive a car, but not register to vote, and people who have the right to do both.  In at least one case, the program appears to have signed someone up to vote who had specifically asked not to register. 

Officials now admit that the Illinois Automatic Voter Registration program has allowed more than 4,500 pre-voting-age teenagers, young adults age 16 and 17, to improperly begin the voter registration process.  In addition, the troubled program has given more than 540 registered-voter cards to people who should not have had the right to sign up.  Persons to whom voting cards have been handed out have included persons with noncitizen residency status – persons with a legal right to live in Illinois, for purposes such as work or study, who are citizens of other countries.  An unknown number of these non-citizens have used their voting cards to cast ballots in Illinois. 

Many House Republicans have called for a full investigation of these events, and for a suspension of the glitch-filled program while this investigation is taking place.  The March 2020 primary and November 2020 election are both getting closer.  Despite these calls, Gov. Pritzker has so far refused to take steps to suspend the program.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

Illinois State Police offers testimony to General Assembly on DNA testing backlog.  In action taken in 2019 by the Illinois General Assembly, the State Police was instructed to look at its storage shelves containing months of untested genetic material.  This is material that is of potential value in bringing cases to trial and even solving unsolved criminal cases, including cases of criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual assault.  Representative Margo McDermed took the lead in the House in demanding that the State Police take action.  McDermed was the lead House sponsor of SB 1411, a measure to push forward the chains of evidence in Illinois cases involving sexual assault evidence tracking.  The Illinois General Assembly, in its balanced FY20 budget, appropriated new funds to the State Police to implement the new law.

Some movement is taking place at the State Police to deal with their untested inventory.  In testimony offered to a state Senate committee this week, State Police Director Brendan Kelly and forensics division leader Col. Sean Cormier offered disclosures on the current state of the backlog.  Kelly and Cormier told the panel on Tuesday, January 28 that the State Police’s moves to increase the priority of moving its testing chain forward has reduced the backlog by 16% since last year.  The State Police now has the resources to hire chemists and technicians to conduct testing work at a pace that is reducing the backlog.

The State Police also indicated that the current revolutionary changes taking place in DNA testing technology are increasing the burdens on their crime-lab chemists and technicians.  New ability to match minimal crime-scene evidence to an individual criminal’s DNA is highly valued by courts of law, turning this evidence into gold-standard evidence and increasing demand for the trained personnel whose services are necessary for the work.  Popular video entertainment plotlines, which show “impossible” law enforcement triumphs achieved by DNA forensic technology, further increase this burden by placing high expectations upon the people who do this work.   

PUBLC HEALTH

Coronavirus outbreak reaches greater Chicago area.  The rapid spread of a highly contagious illness, Wuhan coronavirus, has created concerns in many parts of the world.  Widespread illness and death has been reported from infected regions in central China which have now been placed under quarantine.  Well more than 100 patients in China have died.  The virus has jumped ahead of the quarantine, though, with cases diagnosed in several locations within the United States, including greater Chicago.  Within Illinois, one person has transmitted the coronavirus to her spouse.  Both Illinois residents with the virus were reported on Thursday, January 30, to be hospitalized in stable condition.

Public health authorities are responding to the appearance of Wuhan coronavirus in greater Chicago.  Cases have been diagnosed, and field workers are using contact tracing to get in touch with people who have been in contact with these patients or who may have been exposed to them.  Casework is moving forward in DuPage County and in northwest Indiana’s Porter County.  As of Thursday, January 30, 21 persons were under investigation for coronavirus in Illinois.

ILLINOIS HERITAGE

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site will utilize augmented reality app technology.  The installation will be done with money brought in through a successful grant application pushed by private citizens who have banded together in the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society, the State of Illinois/Native American site’s 501-c-3 arm.  Grant money will be used to install an Augmented Reality App with transmissions accessible to visitors with smartphones.  After the installation is completed, smartphone users will point their phones, and will then see recreated scenes from that exact location in old Cahokia come to life on their device screens.  They will be able to compare surviving fragments of the lost city, such as Monk’s Mound and Woodhenge, with depictions of what these wonders of North America looked like when they were in thriving use as the centerpieces of a great Mississippi River-based cultural network. 

Cahokia Mounds, North America’s first large city, was a metropolis in AD 1050 – at that time, more people were living on this site than in any location in the English-speaking world of Europe, including London.  The cultivation of corn had just blossomed into full life in the center of North America, creating vast opportunities for cultural life and human prosperity.  The Cahokia Mounds Augmented Reality App will be keyed to scenes from the year 1050.