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Illinois lawmakers begin review of state monuments | Govt-and-politics | qctimes.com – Quad City Times

Illinois lawmakers begin review of state monuments | Govt-and-politics | qctimes.com – Quad City Times

Illinois lawmakers begin review of state monuments SPRINGFIELD – A House committee tasked with reviewing statues and monuments on state property held its first meeting Wednesday, April 21, hearing from historians and state government associations on what steps are being in other states and what frameworks can be established to guide the review process. Rep. Tim Butler,

Illinois lawmakers begin review of state monuments

SPRINGFIELD  A House committee tasked with reviewing statues and monuments on state property held its first meeting Wednesday, April 21, hearing from historians and state government associations on what steps are being in other states and what frameworks can be established to guide the review process.

Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican who serves as minority spokesperson on the task force, said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s creation of the review body is an “important and correct” decision.

Butler said figures such as John W.E. Thomas, who was born a slave in Alabama and in 1876 became the first African American elected to the Illinois General Assembly, should have a place of honor in the Illinois Capitol.

Rep. Mary Flowers, who this year became the longest-serving Black lawmaker in the state’s history, is the chair of the task force. The Chicago Democrat said certain statues are indicative of “white supremacy,” and the committee’s role will be “education, education, education” on state monuments and their subjects.   

“We cannot erase our history, our history is what it is,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is the same way we have eliminated the colored signs and the blacks only water fountains and bathrooms and different things like that, with these statues, those are the reminders of the past, as well as the white supremacy. And these are the things that we need to eliminate because that’s not who we are today.”

History and how it is written, told and portrayed in public spaces was a major theme of the first task force hearing.

“What are the stories that demand a more complete and honest retelling?” Linda Reneé Baker, a professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute asked in her committee testimony. “We can’t erase the history, but we can retell the stories, we can work with the historians to tell them in a more factual manner, we can reframe the discussion in light of the truth as we know it.”

Landscape architecture professor David Hays said history “is always subjective. It’s a matter of opinion, even when anchored in facts.” The design of public places “plays a significant role” in interpreting elements of the past and translating them to the present.

The committee will hold several hearings, Flowers said, although the exact number is not decided yet, and then it will present recommendations to the General Assembly.

* * *

TELEHEALTH SERVICES: The Illinois House passed a bill Friday, April 23, which would make COVID-19-related expansions to telehealth services permanent through state statute.

House Bill 3498, introduced by Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, aims to reduce barriers in access to virtual and telehealth services and would bring standards for virtual care in line with physical health services.

Conroy said that access to telehealth, which became a necessity for many Illinoisians during the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, would bring lasting benefits in managing chronic health conditions.

Additionally, Conroy said telehealth legislation passed by the state and federal government last year has allowed health care providers to “make significant, rapid investment in telehealth technology.”

The bill, which is supported by a coalition of over 35 health care providers, institutions and advocacy groups from around the state, prohibits geographic or facility restrictions on telehealth services and allows patients to be treated via telehealth in their home.

The bill also protects patients from being charged any additional fees by insurance providers for accessing telehealth services. Patients will also not be required to prove any sort hardship or access barrier to receive telehealth services.

According to information from the Coalition to Protect Telehealth Services, medical providers such as the University of Chicago Medicine “provided very few” services via phone or video prior to the pandemic, but between March and July of last year, the group provided nearly 30,000 telephone visits and over 60,000 audio-video visits.

Danny Chun, spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Telehealth Services, said Gov. JB Pritzker has issued several successive 90-day protections for telehealth services, but he stressed that protecting services through state statute would be necessary to allow providers to continue to provide care through telehealth.

* * *

LEADERSHIP TERM LIMITS: The Illinois House advanced a bill Thursday, April 22, to implement term limits on leadership positions in the General Assembly.

House Bill 642, introduced by Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, would bar any individual from serving more than 10 consecutive years in a leadership position in the General Assembly, including speaker of the House, president of the Senate, and minority leadership positions in each house.

The bill would take effect for any legislators seated on or after January 12, 2022.

While the Illinois House and Senate both passed term limits on party leadership in their respective chamber rules in January, the new bill would enforce the term limits through state statute.

The rule changes come on the heels of former Speaker Michael Madigan being ousted following his record 36 years as speaker between 1983 and the election of Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch in January.

On the house floor, DeLuca credited Welch for pushing for the new term limits.

House Bill 642 passed with no votes against in the House and will be sent to the Senate.

* * *

DEFELONIZING SMALL-AMOUNT POSSESSION: A bill to lessen penalties for possessing and selling small amounts of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, narrowly passed out of the state House of Representatives Wednesday, April 21, after a contentious debate.

The discussion over House Bill 3447 provoked strong emotions on both sides of the aisle, passing by a 61-49 vote, or just one more than was needed to pass.

The bill — filed by Rep. Carol Ammons, an Urbana Democrat — would reclassify small amounts of drug possession from a low-level felony to a misdemeanor.

For example, a person who possesses less than three grams of heroin would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Currently, that offense would be charged as a Class 4 felony, which carries a one- to four-year prison sentence.

Misdemeanors under the bill would also include possession of less than five grams of cocaine, less than five pills of most schedule III substances such as Xanax and Valium, and less than 40 pills of oxycodone and similar painkillers. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a prison sentence of less than one year.

The bill would create a new category of drug possession for medium amounts of possession, such as three to 14 grams of heroin and five to 14 grams of cocaine, that would be charged as a Class 4 felony. Currently, those amounts of possession are a Class 1 felony, which is the second highest class of felonies and is punishable by a prison sentence between four and 15 years.

It would also reclassify some low-level drug dealing offenses as a Class 4 felony, from a Class 3 felony.

* * *

MIDWIFE LICENSING: The certified professional midwife profession in Illinois moved one step closer to becoming an officially licensed occupation on Thursday with the passage of House Bill 3401.

HB 3401 creates the Licensed Certified Professional Midwife Practice Act, which would license individuals who perform out-of-hospital births and have earned the credentials associated with being a professional midwife.

The bill, sponsored by Evanston Democratic Rep. Robyn Gabel, garnered bipartisan support, with only one Republican and one Democrat voting against it.

Gabel said the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Nurses Association, American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association are among many medical groups that support the bill.

“This will make (certified professional midwives) legitimate, legal, licensed and safe,” Gabel said on the House floor. “This is a group of midwives who are trained to do home births, and that’s what they do. Up to this point, it’s been illegal in this state to do that, and they couldn’t get insurance, they couldn’t transfer to a hospital, they couldn’t talk to a doctor.”

The bill “makes them legal, so they can now try to get insurance, they can have relationships with a hospital so they can transfer a baby if that should happen,” Gabel said.

CPMs are currently licensed in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

The bill defines the practice of midwifery as the “means of providing the necessary supervision, care, and advice to a client during a low-risk pregnancy, labor and the post-partum period, including the intended low-risk delivery of a child, and providing normal newborn care.”

The definition specifically excludes the practice of nursing and medicine. The bill distinguishes between a certified professional midwife and a certified nurse midwife, which is a separate occupation that requires a nursing degree.

The bill passed by a 105-2 vote, and heads to the state Senate for further debate.

* * *

NAME CHANGE FOR FELONS: A bill allowing a person who must register with a state agency due to a criminal conviction to change their name under specific circumstances passed the Illinois House on Thursday, April 22, with bipartisan support.

House Bill 2542, introduced by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, amends several state statutes preventing Illinois residents from changing their names due to their presence on watch lists.

The bill crafts exceptions for people who want to change their name due to marriage, religious beliefs, victim status or gender-related identity subject to the approval of a judge. Individuals who have not completed the terms of their sentence would still be ineligible for a name change.

The petition created by the legislation requires that persons seeking to change their name must swear, under threat of committing perjury, that the name change is due to one of the four aforementioned reasons.

The petition comes with a warning that a person required to register with a state agency as a result of a conviction under the amended acts who asks the court for a name change without satisfying one of the four valid reasons will be committing a felony.

Illinoisans who change their legal name under this statute would be required to notify the relevant law enforcement agency in charge of their registration of the change. Their former name, along with all aliases, would still exist in their criminal record accessible for all law enforcement agencies alongside their new one.

The name change would also be published publicly unless the petitioner could show that doing so would cause “a hardship, including but not limited to, a negative impact on the person’s health or safety.”

HB 2542 passed the House in a bipartisan 85-27 vote to advance to the Senate floor.

* * *

SOURCE OF INCOME PROTECTIONS: The House passed House Bill 2775 Tuesday, April 20, introduced by Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, to create additional legal defenses for renters and protections against discrimination based on source of income, as well as preventing undue administrative burdens when applying for housing assistance.

Protected sources of income under the bill would include various types of income including emergency housing assistance, social security, disability support, and federal Section 8 housing vouchers. 

Ford said rental discrimination based on source of income is often a “proxy” for other factors that target communities of color and people with disabilities.

“Without source of income protections, landlords can discriminate against veterans, voucher holders, people with disabilities and older adults by refusing to accept their non-wage income,” Ford said.

The bill states that a landlord commits a civil rights violation if they choose to apply an income or asset requirement to a tenant with a “non-wage source of income.”

Opponents of the bill, including Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said it would impose unnecessary restrictions and requirements on landlords.

“What this body seems to keep wanting to do is impose more burdens on the landlords, and I’d really like to know in what universe you get more affordable housing by making affordable housing harder to do,” Mazzochi said.

The bill passed by a 62-48 vote and will be sent to the Senate.

* * *

RESTORATIVE PRIVILEGE: A bill that would prevent statements and actions made by participants in restorative justice programs from being used in court proceedings passed the Illinois Senate on Wednesday, April 21, in partisan vote, 39-17.

Senate Bill 64, introduced by Chicago Democrat Sen. Robert Peters, would make “anything said or done” in the course of a restorative justice practice “privileged,” meaning it cannot be used “in any civil, criminal, juvenile, or administrative proceeding.”

Illinois first began using restorative justice courts in 2017. According to the Illinois State Bar Association, restorative justice is meant to bring together the offenders, victims and communities to “address and repair the harm.”

The legislation defines this practice as when “parties who have caused harm or who have been harmed and community stakeholders collectively gather to identify and repair harm to the extent possible, address trauma, reduce the likelihood of further harm, and strengthen community ties.”

The State Bar provides examples of restorative justice practices such as mediation between the victim and offender, a conference between supporters of both parties in the crime, and a listening panel between the offender and members of their community.

Offending participants in restorative justice programs will typically be pushed to explain their actions and apologize to the victim and the victim is usually encouraged to make amends with earnest, apologetic offenders. Peters’ legislation would make sure that statements from both parties made in this process will not be used in criminal, juvenile or civil suits to influence decisions towards or against either party.

SB 64 provides exceptions that will waive the privilege granted to recipients under three conditions: if disclosure would prevent death or bodily harm, if disclosure is required under another law, or if a court requires a report on a restorative justice practice taking place.

Restorative justice practices undertaken outside of the court system by schools, workplaces and community groups would also fall under this legislation and be shielded from having their contents admitted in court proceedings.

However, the validity of these practices can be challenged in court and following a hearing a judge would decide whether they qualify for the protections offered by the legislation.

* * *

REDISTRICTING: Illinois Republicans have added a new twist to their call for an independent redistricting commission in hopes of overcoming Democrats’ claims that their plan would likely be found unconstitutional.

The new twist, discussed Wednesday, April 21, during a Statehouse news conference, would be to allow two different commissions – the one they are proposing in legislation, and the one mandated after a certain point under the Illinois Constitution – to work side-by-side to come up with new legislative and congressional district maps.

“The constitution has a commission that exists. It can’t be changed, it is what it is,” said Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria. “So how do we feed the correct information into that constitutional redistricting commission? … We recommend the use of Senate Bill 1325 as the best way to gather input because there are still legislators that are included on the constitutional commission.”

Republicans introduced SB 1325 in February. Its language is substantially similar to that of a proposed constitutional amendment that Democratic Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, introduced in 2019 with a bipartisan group of 37 cosponsors – more than the three-fifths majority needed for passage.

Since its introduction, though, Democrats have argued that such a plan cannot be adopted through legislation, but only through a constitutional amendment.

That’s because the Illinois Constitution, as it currently reads, already spells out a procedure for redistricting. It says lawmakers have until June 30 to approve maps, and if they fail to meet that deadline, the responsibility goes to an eight-member commission, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, with some members who are legislators and some who are not.

Because the Republican plan is different from what’s provided in the constitution, Democrats argue, it would almost certainly be overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court.

“Republicans know that this bill is nothing but a smokescreen,” Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, said during a recent redistricting hearing.

Asked to respond to that during Wednesday’s news conference, Spain and other House Republicans, for the first time, argued that two commissions could work simultaneously, with the one created under legislation providing information and guidance to the one mandated under the constitution.

* * *

REFERENDUMS ON RENT CONTROL: A new amendment to House Bill 116, which advanced out of committee earlier this spring, would allow municipalities to vote on rent control measures through referendum.

HB116 as originally introduced would have lifted the state’s blanket ban on local rent control measures, which has been in place since 1997. The new amendment discussed Wednesday, April 21, instead would give that power to voters and municipal governments to consider rent control measures on a community-by-community basis.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said he chose to introduce the amendment as a compromise after hearing from constituents and colleagues in the house.

Guzzardi said in a Wednesday Housing Committee hearing that the new amendment would lay out a process to allow local voters to introduce a ballot measure for rent control, from the petition process to placing a referendum on the ballot.

Under the act, if voters of a municipality pass a rent control referendum, the municipality would be considered exempt from the state’s blanket ban on rent control policies, allowing the local government to set caps on rent prices.

* * *

DENTAL CARE, HOMELESS COLLEGE STUDENTS: Senate Bill 190, sponsored by Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, D-Western Springs, would require higher education institutions, including business, technical or vocational schools, to designate at least one employee to serve as a liaison between the institution and the homeless student to assist in accessing resources.

Senate Bill 346, sponsored by Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, would require the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to regulate school-based dental programs that offer preventative dental services for children under age 19.

Both bills passed out of the Senate Wednesday, April 21, on 58-0 votes with no floor debate, moving to the House for further action.

Glowiak Hilton’s bill concerning homeless students is a bipartisan effort to ensure the homeless college student population can properly access necessary resources.

The institution could choose the liaison from within the financial aid department, campus housing services, or any other office or department they deem appropriate.

It would be the liaison’s responsibility to identify appropriate services, understand aid eligibility, track graduation and retention rates, and report the number of students using homelessness resources. They would also be in charge of developing a plan to provide access to on-campus housing between academic breaks to homeless students enrolled at the institution.

SB 190 would also require the Board of Higher Education to adopt rules, policies and procedures to implement the bill, as well as develop and provide training programs for the designated liaisons.

Morrison’s bill would allow for schools to offer out-of-office preventative dental services, such as teeth cleanings, for children and teens.

The bill states that IDHFS would administer and regulate the programs and set requirements for follow-up referral care.

The bill also provides that no provider could be charged a fee by any unit of local government to participate in the school-based dental program administered by IDHFS.

* * *

LOCAL GOVERNMENT FUNDING: Several municipal groups held a virtual news conference Tuesday, April 20, to outline their concerns with the governor’s proposal to cut local government funding this year. Elmhurst Mayor Steve Morley, who serves as vice president for the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, acted as a moderator for the event.

Morley said local governments cannot afford cuts to the share of state income taxes directed to municipalities, known as the Local Government Distributive Fund, or LGDF, in light of the disastrous effects of the coronavirus pandemic on city revenues.

According to Morley, when Illinois first adopted its flat income tax in 1969, it was agreed that 10 percent of the revenue generated from the income tax would be redistributed by state government back to municipalities.

This was the case until 2011, when Democratic former Gov. Pat Quinn reduced the LGDF share of income tax revenue, while also raising Illinois personal income tax from 3 to 5 percent, and its corporate tax rate from 4.8 to 7 percent in an attempt to balance the state’s budget.

Illinois currently has a 4.95 percent income tax rate and a 7 percent corporate tax rate, and the LGDF contribution has fallen to 6.06 percent of state income revenue.

The governor’s February proposal included a 10 percent reduction to the $1.2 billion LGDF in order to make up for a $152 million shortfall in the projected 2022 Fiscal Year budget caused by the failure of the graduated tax.

 “Gov. Pritzker proposed a balanced budget that is a responsible plan and makes the vital investments in agencies on the front lines of the pandemic response like public health, healthcare and family services and employment security,” a spokesperson for Pritzker said in an email Tuesday. “The Governor looks forward to working with the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget that lifts up working families who have suffered amid this pandemic and that continues to rebuild our economy.”

Despite the rate reduction in LGDF, the governor’s office said the actual amount received by municipalities will be made up by “closing corporate tax loopholes” to the tune of $228 million, which will offset the $152 million diverted from the LGDF.

The governor’s office also noted that Illinois municipalities are also set to receive $5.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief support following the passage of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

* * *

LINCOLN MUSEUM AUDIT: Leadership at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum assured state lawmakers Tuesday, April 20, that its new policies for loaning artifacts will correct the insufficient oversight that led to the improper loan of an original copy of the Gettysburg Address in 2018.

ALPLM Acting Executive Director Melissa Coultas said the agency has established safeguards to protect the safety of artifacts and collection items, including a new policy that requires the ALPLM Board of Trustees to approve any loan requests.

Lack of loan oversight was one of 15 total findings made by the state auditor general in its first compliance audit since the library became an independent state agency, separate from the Historical Preservation Agency in 2017.

The agency’s lack of controls over the preparation and review of receipts and refunds, incomplete or inaccurate reporting of its property records, failure to maintain adequate records management and inadequate control over employee performance evaluations were among the findings described in the audit report covering fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Coultas testified Tuesday before a meeting of the Legislative Audit Commission, which is a bipartisan committee mandated by law to review all audits conducted by the state auditor general.

ALPLM agreed with all of the recommendations, implemented five of the recommendations and partially implemented 10 of them, according to the audit.

Coultas has served as acting executive director of the agency since former director Alan Lowe was fired in September 2019 after loaning a copy of the Gettysburg Address that was handwritten by Lincoln to a popup exhibit in Texas run by conservative media personality Glenn Beck on eight days’ notice.

In response to questions about ALPLM’s updated loan policy, Coultas said the agency now requires that an internal collections committee first decide whether to recommend approval of the loan. She said the final decision would then go to the ALPLM’s board of trustees, which would decide whether to approve the committee’s recommendation. This process did not happen with the Gettysburg Address loan to Beck, Coultas said.

* * *

VIRTUAL NURSING HOME VISITS: Lawmakers and advocates are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to pass a bill that would require nursing homes to offer virtual visits for residents to prevent social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AARP Illinois, the senior advocacy group which helped craft Senate Bill 2137, held a virtual news conference Tuesday, April 20, to emphasize the necessity of such legislation as the ongoing pandemic prevents nursing home residents from in-person visits and participating in other daily social activities.

SB 2137, modeled after a New Jersey law, is sponsored by Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, co-sponsored by Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-St.Charles, and sponsored by Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, in the House.

AARP associate state director Lori Hendren noted there have been over 70,000 positive COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, and over 10,300 virus-related deaths in Illinois – or 43 percent of the state’s total death count – have been nursing home residents.  

If the bill becomes law, long-term care facilities would be required to adopt and implement a set of policies for virtual visitation, such as the creation of individualized visitation plans, cleaning and sanitizing protocols for the devices, as well as designating a person to train staff, social workers, or volunteers to directly assist residents with technology use.

For a funding source, the bill notes nursing home operators may apply for civil monetary penalty funds from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The civil money penalty funds program aims “to improve quality of life by equipping nursing home staff, administrators and stakeholders with technical tools and assistance to enhance resident care.” It’s paid into by fines on nursing homes penalized for noncompliance with Medicare and Medicaid participation requirements.

Sponsors of the bill said facilities may also request other state and federal aid available for nursing homes to assist in complying with this proposal.

SB 2137 passed unanimously out of the Senate Health Committee and is now awaiting consideration of the full Senate.

* * *

AUTISM FUNDING: Legislation filed in the Illinois House would free up millions of dollars in Medicaid coverage for autism treatment after a previous bungled attempt in 2019.

House Bill 16, introduced by Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, would amend rules for the state’s medical assistance program to allow Medicaid to cover specific treatments for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It currently awaits assignment to a substantive committee.

ASD is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Children and adults diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum can present a wide range of symptoms with varying intensity, from being non-verbal to establishing unusual and repetitive lifelong routines.

Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is one of the most widespread evidence-based interventions used to treat ASD and other disorders that affect child development.

In 2008, embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law the day after his arrest that mandated private insurance in Illinois cover the diagnosis and treatment of ASD, including behavioral therapy. Yet, despite a 2014 federal mandate that states cover autism treatment through Medicaid, Illinois was one of a handful of states that didn’t provide Medicaid coverage for behavioral therapy until 2019.

However, an error in implementation created restrictions on who could provide behavioral therapy, an obstacle that has functionally prevented Illinois’ Medicaid plan from covering behavioral therapy despite it technically being included in Medicaid spending on paper.

In 2019, legislators included coverage for behavioral therapy in the medical assistance program, which administers state and federal funds from Medicaid and similar services to qualifying residents. Any changes in how Medicaid funding is being used must be included in a State Plan Amendment that is submitted to the federal government for approval, which is where the mistake occurred.

The Illinois Medicaid plan requires that a practitioner must be a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, and possess a second credential as either a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in order to receive Medicaid funding for behavioral therapy. That plan was submitted to and approved by the federal government.

The Autism Task Force, which is run through the Illinois Department of Human Services, claimed in a 2020 meeting that $42 million placed in the state’s FY 2020 budget for behavioral therapy through Medicaid remained untouched due to the mistake.

The number of BCBAs in Illinois is around 1,400. While the 2009 law allows for BCBAs to provide behavioral therapy through private insurance, 98 percent of them cannot do the same through Medicaid, creating a significant monetary hurdle for low-income families of children with autism who cannot afford private insurance.

HB 16 would allow for just a BCBA certification for Medicaid coverage of behavioral therapy starting on July 1, the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year.

* * *

ELECTIONS DIRECTOR TO RETIRE: The executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, who was placed on leave after being the subject of an extortion scheme online, will resign effective June 30, according to an agency news release.

Steve Sandvoss made the announcement about his resignation at an elections board meeting Tuesday, April 20.

Sandvoss has been on leave since April 5 following a personal online extortion attempt that he reported to the Illinois State Police. The ISP denied a freedom of information act request by Capitol News Illinois seeking details of the reported incident. 

The board has not released details about the online extortion attempt, other than that an agency internal investigation by its chief information security officer “revealed that no SBE data or systems had been compromised in the incident,” according to Tuesday’s news release.

Matt Dietrich, ISBE spokesperson, said that internal investigation is completed.

The board has approved Bernadette Matthews to serve as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is named.

Matthews previously served as assistant executive director of the agency, a role she has held since 2017, according to her LinkedIn page. Before that, she was the agency’s deputy general counsel for nine years.

* * *

FIRST LADY VISIT: First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon on Monday, April 19, to discuss how the American Rescue Plan will support higher education in Illinois.

After touring the facility, Cardona and the first lady announced President Joe Biden’s investment in higher education through the American Rescue Plan, the latest federal COVID-19 pandemic relief package, which includes $40 billion for higher education infrastructure projects and programs to make education more accessible.

As a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, Biden is a longtime advocate for education, especially community college education.

In Illinois, 19 higher education institutions will benefit from the American Rescue Plan funding, including Illinois State University, the University of Illinois System, Illinois Valley Community College and Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, to name a few.

The eligible institutions will be required to spend at least half of these allocated funds to provide direct relief grants to students to cover an array of student costs of attendance, such as housing, food and technology expenses, among other needs.

Similar to funding from previous federal relief packages, remaining funds can also be used by the institutions to cover lost revenue, technology costs due to remote learning, faculty and staff training, or payroll.

The National Education Association released a fact sheet that outlines the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund included in the American Rescue Plan, which found that about 7.5 percent, or nearly $3 billion of the $40 billion in grants will be specifically dedicated to historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions and other under-resourced institutions.

Approximately $36 billion will go to 3,500 public and private, nonprofit colleges and universities, and around $395.8 million will be allocated for 1,630 for-profit institutions, according to the American Council on Education.

* * *

AFFORDABLE HOUSING TAX CREDIT: Senate Bill 2445, also known as the Build Illinois Homes Tax Credit Act, is an omnibus bill that aims to address the shortage of affordable housing stock in Illinois by offering incentives to landlords who maintain qualified affordable housing properties and for the purchase of building materials to be used for the construction of new affordable housing units.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, and Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, advanced out of the Senate Revenue Committee unanimously on April 14.

Proponents of the legislation, including Hunter, said tax incentives are an important first step to addressing the state’s affordable housing shortage.

Under the proposed bill, developers would qualify for a state tax credit if they agree to set aside at least 20 percent of units in a property for low-income renters in areas with low affordability, or, at least 15 percent of a multifamily building’s units are occupied by households with low or extremely low incomes for a period of 10 years.  

According to the advocacy group Housing Action Illinois, the bill would allocate $35 million annually via federal tax credits that are currently “left on the table,” and is expected to result in over $875 million in affordable housing investments and an additional 3,500 affordable housing units per year.

According to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Illinois is facing a shortage of approximately 268,000 housing units for renters at or below the poverty line, and there are only 39 available units for every 100 renters at “extremely low income” levels, designated as earning less than 50 percent of their area median income.

* * *

EPA REPORT: A senior federal official stalled inspections by regional offices to monitor cancer-causing emissions at suburban facilities in Illinois, according to a report by the inspector general which audits the performance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The report also found EPA officials delayed informing suburban residents about the ethylene oxide emissions at a Willowbrook sterilization facility and did not conduct public meetings with residents living near two other facilities in Lake County.

The report examines the U.S. EPA’s response to ethylene oxide emissions monitoring at the three Illinois facilities, following the agency’s determination in late 2016 that the odorless gas is 30 times more carcinogenic to adults than previously thought.

Medline Industries in Waukegan uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment. Sterigenics, a facility in Willowbrook which used the chemical for the same purpose, closed in 2019.

The Vantage Specialty Chemicals facility in Gurnee uses ethylene oxide to make ingredients for personal care, food, consumer products and other uses. It remains in operation, along with Medline.

After the EPA elevated the cancer risk for ethylene oxide in December 2016, regional EPA officials in Illinois conducted emissions monitoring around Sterigenics in May 2018 that “showed ambient ethylene oxide concentrations that would lead to increased cancer risk if people were exposed for a lifetime,” according to the report from the U.S. EPA Office of the Inspector General.

When regional EPA staff requested permission in September 2018 to conduct testing at other ethylene oxide-emitting facilities in the region, an unnamed “senior political leader” at EPA instructed regional staff not to conduct inspections at any other facilities unless invited by the state, according to the report.

“Senior political appointees” at the federal agency also instructed regional EPA staff to limit ambient air monitoring of ethylene oxide to Sterigenics, and not to seek help from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which operates under the federal Department of Health and Human Services. 

The inspector general’s report also accuses senior leaders at EPA of delaying the public release of the Sterigenics monitoring results for about two months and limiting the scope of information that was publicly released online in August 2018.

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