Week in Review: Ethics reform, disability services, human trafficking and more

With the two-year anniversary of former Speaker Mike Madigan’s indictment coinciding with National Ethics Awareness Month, State Rep. Charlie Meier and House Minority Leader Tony McCombie is using the opportunity to advance ethics reform in the Illinois House this spring.

Leader McCombie and Rep. Meier have continued to advocate for reform as federal indictments have rocked the state, and the majority party has refused to step up to tighten existing loopholes in current law or strengthen existing statutes. To address some of those shortcomings and restore faith in government, Meier sponsored HB4119, to prohibit elected officials from using political campaign donations to pay for criminal defense. 

Madigan, the longest-serving state House speaker in modern U.S. history, was indicted on federal racketeering and bribery charges in March 2022. He was set to stand trial in federal court in April 2024, but the trial has been pushed back to October 8, 2024. To date, he has used millions in campaign funds to pay for his legal defense.

House Republicans have fought an uphill battle in the legislature for greater ethics reform. McCombie’s bill is just one measure out of a dozen that Republican lawmakers will continue their advocacy for this year in the Illinois House.

Rep. Meier, GOP Legislators Continue to Protect Jobs for Workers with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. At a press conference held in the State Capitol building on Wednesday, State Representative Charlie Meier led the charge in opposing legislation pending in the House of Representatives (HB 793) that would have a negative impact on 14c workshops and put as much as 3,591 workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of work across the state of Illinois if the bill were to become law.

“We need to create opportunities before we close the others,” said Rep. Charlie Meier. “These clients need the dignity of having a job as this legislation could result in over 3,500 jobs lost for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that’s about three-fourths of these jobs currently filled. We must work on this bill, we need to make some changes, we want to keep everybody with their job, and maintain the chance of having a job.”

Meier was joined by State Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer, State Representative Mike Coffey, State Senator Chapin Rose, and Doug McDonald, CEO of Sparc, a 14c workshop located in Springfield.

House Bill 793 would require 14c workshops to pay individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities minimum wage. As written, this bill provides no financial assistance and would leave service providers scrambling to find a way to pick up the extra costs. Illinois needs to support workers, but this approach is a flawed strategy that will have consequences for employees and providers.

“While this bill sounds good in theory, it would ultimately lead to individuals losing their job and having zero income,” said Rep. Mike Coffey. “Service providers do a fantastic job, but many of them would be unable to pay minimum wage to their employees if this bill is passed. Protecting our job force should be a priority and this bill does the opposite.”

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently work under a 14c certificate. This certificate allows them to earn subminimum wage. This approach does two things: Provides job opportunities and allows service providers to offer efficient services to disabled individuals.

The CEO of SPARC, Douglas McDonald, voiced his concerns about this bill, “Implementing HB793 would be a tremendous undertaking with high risks,” said McDonald. “It is essential that any substantial change in services be carefully considered before any action is taken. This bill pushes for implementation based solely on guesses.”

*View Wednesday’s press conference in its entirety here.

House Republicans Fighting to Protect Human Trafficking Victims. Protecting victims of human trafficking is a top priority for Illinois House Republicans during the Spring 2024 Session. The Caucus is fighting this epidemic head-on with a robust bill package that provides protections to individuals who have fallen victim to human trafficking.

 In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 243 human trafficking cases in Illinois, with 355 victims reported. 

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some labor or commercial sex act. These acts include victims of all ages, races, and genders. The victims can be lured into these situations by violence, manipulation, false promises of well-paying jobs, or romantic relationships. 

State Representatives Nicole La Ha, Jeff Keicher, Jennifer Sanalitro, and Brad Stephens held a Capitol press conference this week to introduce the “Protect Victims of Human Trafficking Legislative Package,” aimed at addressing the critical shortcomings in Illinois’ efforts to combat human trafficking and provide essential protections for victims.

“Human trafficking and exploitation are much more pervasive problems than many of us realize, and it can happen in any community regardless of size or location,” said Rep. Keicher. “This often-overlooked form of modern-day slavery affects people of all ages and races, regardless of gender, and despite some recent progress, our state is failing when it comes to preventing these horrific crimes and helping victims heal.”

This issue has been something personal for Keicher since joining the General Assembly, as a family member who was abused as a child tragically died due to a lack of resources to help victims recover.

“As part of the package of legislation I proposed with my colleagues today, I’m proud to carry House Bill 5465,” continued Keicher. “This legislation builds on a law we passed last year by creating an easier process for child victims of sex trafficking to have their juvenile records expunged or sealed as a result of any criminal acts they were forced to take part in while being abused. One of the first steps in helping someone heal after immense trauma like sexual abuse is ensuring their past doesn’t follow them around, and I believe this legislation is an important component of helping victims heal.”

As Keicher noted, Illinois is currently failing in several areas to address human trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to Illinois’ Report Card on Child & Youth Sex Trafficking, as compiled by Share Hope International, an organization that tracks and promotes legislative action to address child sex trafficking, Illinois receives an F for our current laws to address this horrific problem.

“Illinois is failing to protect women and children in our state from human trafficking predators,” said Rep. La Ha. “We must address systemic failures and root causes that have allowed human trafficking to thrive in communities across Illinois. By strengthening victim protections, holding perpetrators accountable, and closing legal loopholes, we are sending a clear message: Illinois will not tolerate the exploitation and victimization of its residents.”

As House Republicans continue their battle against human trafficking, Rep. La Ha emphasized the importance of collaboration with anti-trafficking organizations and utilizing resources like the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Illinois State Police, Reclaim 13, the Salt and Light Coalition, and more.

“Addressing human trafficking requires a comprehensive approach,” said Rep. La Ha. “Together, we can create a safer, more just Illinois for all its residents.”

Rep. Nicole La Ha has introduced the following bills as part of this legislative package:

  • HB 5134 seeks to amend the Sex Offender Registration Act to include trafficking in persons, involuntary servitude, and involuntary sexual servitude of a minor in the definition of “sex offense,” enhancing monitoring and protection measures.
  • HB 5466 proposes the removal of an affirmative defense for patronizing a minor engaged in prostitution, crucial for holding perpetrators accountable and safeguarding vulnerable minors.
  • HB 5467 addresses the statute of limitations for prosecuting trafficking offenses involving minors, ensuring that justice can be pursued at any time if the victim was under 18 at the time of the offense.

Representatives Keicher, Sanalitro, and Stephens have also contributed essential bills to the legislative package:

  • HB 5465: This bill allows minors in juvenile court to petition for immediate sealing or expungement of their records if their involvement in a crime was a result of human trafficking (Rep. Keicher).
  • HB 5468: This bill creates an affirmative defense for victims of human trafficking who commit an offense as a result of being trafficked. It requires the victim to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they are victims of human trafficking (Rep. Sanalitro).
  • HB 5469: This bill creates the Human Trafficking Order of Protection Act to allow victims of human trafficking to obtain orders of protection against their traffickers (Rep. Sanalitro).
  • HB 5470: This bill adds “patronize” to involuntary sexual servitude of a minor in order to ensure buyers are held accountable as sex trafficking offenders (Rep. Stephens).

The legislators also noted during the press conference how important it is to raise awareness by requesting that members of the media and public utilize the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 888-373-7888, to report any suspected trafficking taking place in their communities.

New CGFA report on State revenue trends. Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) trends turned upward again in February 2024, but all of the revenue increase was accounted for by two individual line items. Net year-over-year increases of $123 million in personal income tax payments, and equivalent year-over-year corporate income tax payments of $24 million more than the previous year, accounted for all of the February 2024 non-transfers-in state tax revenue gain of $129 million for the month of February. The monthly revenue report, published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) this week, reinforces a picture of the State’s current budget picture being almost completely dependent on Illinois’ sluggish ability to generate new jobs and payroll growth.

Economic indicators further show that the current growth in Illinois pay and personal income tax payments, including withholding payments, is closely tied to Illinois inflation rather than to the creation of new jobs. A separate CGFA table indicates that Illinois employment, and the size of Illinois’ civilian labor force, is currently flat on a month-over-month basis. The Illinois economy is not creating net new jobs. Illinois employers maintained 6,155,700 nonfarm payroll jobs in February 2024, a net change of 0.0% from the previous month.

Bright spots for State revenue include tax receipts from gaming and gambling. After a COVID-19-related slowdown, numbers flowing through the Illinois Gaming Board indicate that full-size Illinois casinos displayed 12.8% growth in adjusted gross receipts during calendar year 2023 in relation to the previous year. This AGR number, from which Illinois taxes are paid, reflected the opening of new permanent casino gaming floors in Carterville and Danville, supplemented by temporary casino floor openings in downtown Chicago and in Waukegan. New permanent casino gaming floors, and associated hotel and hospitality spaces, are being constructed in Chicago, Rockford, Waukegan, and along Interstate 80 in the south suburbs of Cook County.

Video gaming is currently mature in Illinois, with 47,047 licensed terminals in operation. Net terminal income levels rose 6.4% in calendar year 2023 to $2,884 billion, generating total tax revenue of $981 million. Of this sum, $837 million went to the State of Illinois in calendar year 2023. It should be noted that video gaming State tax revenue does not go to the State’s challenged general revenue funds; these receipts flow directly to the Capital Projects Fund, to service State capital project debts and enable infrastructure construction and spending.

Sports wagering is the newest and fastest-growing segment of Illinois’ gambling picture. Adjusted gross receipts posted by sports wagering firms operating in Illinois rose by 26.2% in calendar year 2023. The Illinois Gaming Board numbers on casino revenues and taxation, video gaming revenues and taxes, and sports wagering revenues and taxes were published this week in CGFA’s February 2024 monthly report.

Illinois’ unemployment rate stabilizes at 4.7%. The January 2004 unemployment rate was released this week by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). It reflects a decline of 0.1%, which is not statistically significant, from the 4.8% statewide jobless rate tallied for December 2023. Illinois had 6,600 fewer nonfarm payroll jobs in January 2024 than had been totaled up twelve months earlier, with declines concentrated in professional and business services (down 40,000 jobs) and in information (down 8,100 jobs). Sharp increases were reported in educational and health services (up 22,300 jobs) and in government (up 22,200 jobs).

Illinois’ 4.7% January 2024 unemployment rate was significantly higher than the rate for the United States as a whole, which was 3.7% for the same month. It was also higher than the rates posted by the neighboring states of Indiana (3.5%), Iowa (3.0%), Kentucky (4.3%), Missouri (3.3%), and Wisconsin (3.4%).

Rivian to launch second-generation R2 electric SUV production in Normal, as plans for Georgia plant are delayed. Rivian revealed its much anticipated downsized R2 electric SUV Thursday, with a few big surprises.

In order to get the R2 to market more quickly, Rivian will begin building its second-generation EVs at its plant in Normal, where the inaugural full-sized R1 line has been in production since 2021. Meanwhile, plans to construct a $5 billion Georgia plant to build the R2 are “delayed,” a company spokesperson said Thursday.

The accelerated target for the R2 rolling off the Normal line will be the first half of 2026, Rivian CEO and founder R.J. Scaringe announced during the live online unveil.

“We’ve been working hard to find ways to pull the timing on these programs forward, to get them to as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” Scaringe said. “We’re able to achieve that accelerated timing by leveraging our production capabilities in Normal, using our Illinois site to launch R2 and get that into market as quickly as we can.”

Rivian began production in September 2021 and builds its electric R1T pickup truck, R1S SUV and commercial delivery vans for Amazon and AT&T in a renovated 3.3 million-square-foot auto plant about 130 miles south of Chicago.

The unveiling of the R2 comes as Rivian plans for a three-week shutdown to retool its Normal plant.

The plant shutdown, which will run from April 8 to 28, is designed to accommodate a number of supplier and component changes to reduce material costs, while improving the speed of production.

As part of the retooling, Rivian plans to eliminate a third production shift and consolidate its 7,000 assembly line workers into two shifts.

“The shift change will begin when we return from the April shutdown, during which we will transform our R1 production to integrate new engineering design changes that we expect will significantly reduce our cost,” said Rivian spokesperson Kelli Felker. “All hourly employees will be offered a job on one of the two available shifts as we will increase capacity per shift.”

House Republicans Honor Women Leaders from Across Illinois. House Minority Leader Tony McCombie and members of the Illinois House Republican Caucus hosted 55 women leaders from across the state on Tuesday to recognize their leadership in making a difference in their communities throughout Illinois.

House Republican legislators from throughout Illinois invited guests from their districts to participate in the Emerging Women Leaders Recognition Event, linking together the broad expanse of industries and diverse individual experiences found within the State of Illinois.

The House Republican’s third annual event included brunch featuring a keynote address by Springfield Mayor Misty Buscher; a Listening Session with Leader McCombie; a dedicated panel called “Own Your Power,” featuring Professor Linda Renee Baker with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Kara Demirjian Hus, Vice President for T.C.C.I. Manufacturing, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lisa Holder White, and Susan Hayes Gordon, Senior Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officers for the Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Several additional panels were offered on various topics in law enforcement, economics, and more. Tours of the Capitol were also available with the Architect of the Capitol Andrea Aggertt.

“It is an honor to host this event that draws incredible leaders from every corner of our state,” said Leader McCombie. “These women are making a great impact in their own communities, and to bring that power into one room makes for a truly phenomenal event. I would like to thank each of them for sharing their stories with us and for their dedication to make our state better for future generations to come.”

Leader McCombie took time to recognize the group with a dedicated speech on the House floor during legislative session.

“The event brought an amazing group of women to our Capitol, which also coincides with women’s history month,” said McCombie. “We have so many leaders throughout our state, this group is something to really be proud of and inspired by—and I am lucky for my time with them today.”

Leader McCombie and the House Republican Caucus will continue to make the Emerging Women Leaders Recognition an annual event, building on the success of the first such event hosted in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the recognition to be postponed from 2020-2022.