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            CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker bans events of 1,000 or more, urges working remotely in new COVID-19 guidelines

            CAPITOL RECAP: Pritzker bans events of 1,000 or more, urges working remotely in new COVID-19 guidelines

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            Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala speaks during a news conference Friday in Chicago updating the state's efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday ordered all public and private schools in Illinois closed from Tuesday through March 30. “This is a scary time, but please know that we are here to do anything and everything we can to help our schools and our students get through this crisis,” Ayala said.

            SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker banned events with more than 1,000 attendees for the next 30 days and urged businesses to allow employees to work from 大中华彩票代理 as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state reached 32.

            At a daily news media briefing on the spread of the novel coronavirus Thursday, March 12, the governor noted authorities would “break up” any large gatherings exceeding that number. He also said the ban applies to large religious congregations, and noted he asked all professional sports owners in the state to put off sporting events until May 1.

            The new guidance is the latest containment effort as public health experts respond to the global pandemic, according Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

            “The virus is here in Illinois. While it may not be in your community now, we anticipate it will be eventually. We all need to take action now by postponing large events and restricting visits to nursing 大中华彩票代理s to limit the spread,” Ezike said.

            Central Illinois lends a hand to those most affected

            “Guidance for this novel virus is changing day by day, sometimes hour by hour, but we want to empower people to think about what they can do to reduce their risk of possible infection, as well as spread of the virus,” she continued. “The state will continue with containment efforts while also implementing mitigation strategies and we’re asking for your help in these efforts.”

            Ezike announced seven new cases: a woman in her 40s and a youth male in Chicago; a Kane County resident in his 70s; two Cook County women in their 70s and a Cook County man in his 50s; and a McHenry County man in his 60s.

            About a quarter of those cases are believed to be from “community spread,” which means the infected persons have neither a travel history to an affected area nor a connection with other known cases. There have been no known deaths from the virus in Illinois.

            As of now, the state will not order the closure of public schools, although it does discourage schools from hosting large assemblies. Local districts should reassess as things progress, according to guidance.

            The state is also encouraging organizers to cancel or postpone community events of 250 people or more until May 1, including personal and social events.

            For events less than 250 people, “residents should closely consider who is likely to attend the event and, if it includes vulnerable populations, strongly consider canceling,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

            Pritzker also announced the James R. Thompson Center, where state business is conducted in Chicago, will be closed to anyone who does not have business in the building "for the foreseeable future.”

            The guidance also suggests employers take advantage of “teleworking” capabilities to encourage employees to work remotely.

            The March 17 elections will go on as planned, Pritzker said, and he encouraged local jurisdictions to expand hours for early voting over the weekend.

            * * *

            SESSION RETURN POSTPONED: The Illinois state Capitol will be without members of the General Assembly next week after the Legislature on Wednesday, March 11, canceled session amid growing concerns of the spread of coronavirus.

            “Given the recommendations for social distancing as a safeguard to slow the spread of this virus, the Illinois Senate is going to do its part,” Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said in a statement.

            The Legislature had been scheduled to return to the Capitol on Wednesday, March 18. It has now canceled sessions planned for March 18, 19 and 20. There has been no decision on sessions scheduled beyond next week.

            “We will constantly monitor the situation and make future decisions based on best practices and advice from the state’s public health and emergency preparedness professionals,” Harmon said.

            Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday morning that this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day parades will be postponed “out of an abundance of caution.”

            * * *

            CAPITOL CONCERNS: Announcements of government policy changes and public and private closures have been seemingly non-stop this week as public health officials adapt to an ever-changing landscape amid the spread of novel coronavirus.

            Beer industry watches and waits as coronavirus epidemic unfolds: Is boon or crisis ahead?

            “The work involved in issuing clear and direct guidelines on a day-to-day basis, when new information comes in literally by the minute, is time consuming and requires consultation with many stakeholders and partners,” Pritzker said Thursday, March 12. “We are committed to getting it right every step of the way.”

            He added his office will remain open “as we are fully committed to ensuring that the government will continue to serve the people of Illinois during this time.”

            In a statement, Senate President Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, said his chamber canceled next week’s legislative session to “do its part” given public health groups’ recommendation to avoid large gatherings.

            “We will constantly monitor the situation and make future decisions based on best practices and advice from the state’s public health and emergency preparedness professionals,” he said.

            Legislative leaders participated in briefings and conference calls with representatives from the governor’s office and Department of Public Health, among others.

            Steve Brown, spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the situation is “unique.”

            “I can’t think of any comparable situation, and managing the Legislature is a different breed of activity than managing a business, a newspaper, what have you,” he said. “We have citizens that come from all over the state to talk about issues they’re concerned about, and you’ve got to balance all of that alongside the public health, public safety, concerns.”

            Madigan, Brown added, is handling the status of coronavirus in Illinois on a “day-by-day, step-by-step basis.”

            * * *

            SENIOR GROUP ACTIVITIES: The Illinois Department on Aging issued an order to state senior centers Wednesday, March 12, to “immediately suspend all gathering activities,” including group meals and social activities, in response to the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

            “Locations where seniors gather such as congregate meal sites and senior centers may increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and community spreading of the virus,” the department wrote in a guidance letter.

            The letter directed area aging agencies to notify providers, staff and clients of the closures within 24 hours. The agencies were also directed to notify those groups of immediate alternatives that will still be available during the group meal suspension, including box lunch services, pick-up options or 大中华彩票代理-delivered meals.

            Area agencies were also instructed to obtain a list of contact information for impacted seniors and determine how to provide regular updates to them.

            The cancellation of group meals is a method of “social distancing” which has been employed elsewhere across the state and the U.S. as the country大中华彩票代理 grapples with the global coronavirus pandemic.

            The Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday announced the cancellation of legislative session next week, and the Illinois High School Association announced that it was curtailing attendance at the upcoming state basketball tournament and all remaining high school games to 60 spectators per school.

            In Chicago, the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parades were postponed, and several state colleges and universities have either canceled classes or moved to distance learning platforms indefinitely.

            Nationally, the NCAA has announced its March Madness basketball tournament will be played without fans and the NBA announced the suspension of its season.

            * * *

            CAPITOL HILL COMPLAINTS: Members of Congress from Illinois vented their frustrations Thursday, March 12, with the Trump administration’s response to the growing outbreak of COVID-19, as fears of the disease lurk throughout Capitol Hill.

            Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesús “Chuy” García slammed actions by the president and federal health officials, while Republican Rep. John Shimkus criticized the president’s communication about the virus but said he still has confidence in his leadership.

            “The administration has simply dropped the ball on addressing this in any kind of a constructive way,” said Schakowsky, of Evanston.

            Both she and García said a morning briefing with the heads of federal health and defense agencies left them more confused.

            “The first thing we're told is that there are over a million tests. And then how many people have actually been tested? We find out it's just over 10,000,” Schakowsky said.

            “You could get a sense of how officials are feeling muzzled at the briefing this morning,” said García, of Chicago. He recalled seeing expressions of “anxiety and disappointment” on the faces of members from both sides of the aisle.

            Shimkus, a Republican from Collinsville, had criticism of Trump’s communication style.

            “He has an ability to say things that eventually get resolved. But when he initially says it, you wonder how or why,” he said.

            Shimkus, though, is confident in the president’s actions, including that he declared a public health emergency in January and has issued travel bans to other affected countries.

            “When you're in a crisis, I think it's bad form to finger-point and blame,” he said. “I think that this is a time for people to work together and try to keep our citizens safe.”

            * * *

            CANNABIS ON CAMPUS: Last fall, Oakton Community College admitted about 100 students into a new program offering a job-training certificate to work in the cannabis industry.

            One semester later, the school, with campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, had to triple the number of class sections it offered to accommodate the demand. And next fall it plans to launch a second certificate program.

            “It’s been really popular,” said Ileo Lott, vice president of academic affairs at Oakton. “The one that started last fall, we opened with about 100 students, and since that time, roughly 20 percent of them have completed the program. And they've been certified and several of them are already working.”

            The program currently offered is for people who want to become a cannabis dispensary and patient care specialist, or “budtender” — someone who works directly with dispensary customers, primarily chronically ill patients who elect to use marijuana or other cannabis-related products as part of their therapy.

            It’s a 12 credit-hour program that includes, among other things, courses in laws and regulations governing cannabis, pharmacology and cannabis use, dispensary operations, business and basic first aid.

            Starting in the fall, he said, Oakton will launch a certificate program in cannabis transportation logistics and supply chain management, a more business-oriented, 14 credit-hour program including courses in cannabis cultivation operations, security guard training, operations and supply chain management and an introduction to transportation, warehousing and logistics.

            Matt Berry, chief of staff at the Illinois Community College Board, said only one other school, City Colleges of Chicago, has applied for approval of a cannabis-related certificate program, but it is not related to the state’s new legalization law.

            * * *

            大中华彩票代理 CENSUS: People throughout the United States can begin filling out their census forms online starting Thursday, March 12, and state officials in Illinois are pulling out all the stops to make sure the state gets an accurate headcount.

            Between March 12 and March 20, about 95 percent of all households in the country大中华彩票代理 will receive a postcard in the mail inviting them to fill out their census form online or by phone in their language.

            “The census is only nine questions – nine questions that impact every single person in your 大中华彩票代理town, our state and across the country大中华彩票代理,” Grace Hou, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human 大中华彩票代理, said during a news conference Wednesday, March 11. “These nine questions are important for your family, your neighbor, your city, your county and your state because your response determines Illinois' infrastructure, meaning roads, hospitals, schools, grocery stores and fire stations.”

            The U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years in order to apportion seats in Congress. Responding to the census is mandatory for all people living in the United States regardless of their citizenship, although the questionnaire does not ask about citizenship.

            The census form asks the name of each person living in the household as of April 1, their dates of birth, ages, race and ethnicity, their relationships to each other and whether the 大中华彩票代理 is occupied by the owners or renters.

            In addition to allocating congressional seats, the federal government also uses that data as the basis for distributing hundreds of billions of dollars each year to states and local communities for things like education, health care, housing, highways and other infrastructure.

            State governments also use census data to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines.

            Recent census estimates have shown Illinois has been losing population and is at risk of losing at least one of its 18 congressional seats.

            Because of that, the Illinois General Assembly last year put $29 million in the state budget for IDHS to help ensure an accurate count. Hou said $20 million of that has already been distributed in each of the state’s 102 counties to work with local organizations to maximize the census count.

            * * *

            AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION: A pair of Illinois House Republicans called for suspension and an audit of the state’s automatic voter registration program after it was revealed that more than 1,100 REAL ID applicants were “erroneously categorized” as opting out of registering to vote.

            The automatic voter registration program was passed in 2017 with unanimous support in the General Assembly and signed into law by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. More than 800,000 people have registered to vote as part of the program.

            It allows anyone renewing their license to be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out, and the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office shares that information with the Illinois State Board of Elections, which shares it with local voting authorities who complete the registrations.

            But this week the Illinois State Board of Elections informed 87 local election authorities in an email that 1,151 eligible voters were incorrectly listed as opting out of the automatic voter registration program even though they should have been registered.

            The two downstate Republicans who called the Capitol news conference Wednesday, March 11, criticized the communication between the elections board and secretary of state and said they were upset they had to learn of the recent mistake from news reports. WCIA-TV in Champaign first reported on the letter this week.

            “(Automatic voter registration) is a complete mess today,” Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said. “And I think, for myself personally, you know, we've been assured for over two months now that problems have been fixed, yet problems continue to come up. I've lost complete confidence in the secretary of state being able to carry out this program.”

            The letter from the elections board informed the local election authorities of the error and directed them to a database where the voters in question could be found. It also recommended the voters be allowed to cast ballots in the upcoming primaries.

            Dave Druker, a spokesperson for the secretary of state, noted any impacted voters would have the ability to vote via same-day registration if the issue was not rectified before the March 17 primaries.

            Butler was joined by Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, in calling for the suspension and an audit of the program.

            “If they're not going to be forthright, then it falls to the Legislature to do that. And that's what we do, our role is holding them accountable, making sure the systems are implemented properly,” Bourne said. “And if they're not willing to come forward and do an audit on their own, then that's something that the Legislature can do.”

            * * *

            STATE OF EMERGENCY: Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday, March 9, announced he has issued a state of emergency decree in response to the novel coronavirus threat.

            That disaster proclamation is “an operational procedure” in part allowing the federal government to reimburse costs related to the state’s response, and making State Disaster Relief Fund dollars available, according to the governor’s office.

            Pritzker said 13 other states have enacted similar measures, including California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Kentucky, New York, Florida and Maryland. His action, he added, is the “next phase of our continued effort to stay ahead of these changing circumstances.”

            “I want to emphasize that this is a statewide response with robust preparations and deployment of resources in southern, central and northern Illinois,” Pritzker said during a news event in Chicago.

            “What we need now is to make sure that we have access to the resources because we can see from the other states, from the other countries, what’s coming — there’s going to be an increase in cases,” Pritzker said. “... It’s my job to protect people — their health and their safety — and so I felt like ... just the general trend of cases across the United States, it seemed incumbent upon me to step forward now and have Illinois do everything we can.”

            The governor’s proclamation allows Illinois to station support teams of health officials and first responders as needed as well as receive additional support from the CDC and federal Emergency Management Agency.

            * * *

            SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: An Illinois man who spent 20 years in solitary confinement after being convicted of a minor theft and, later, driving without a license is now helping lead a push for legislation to limit the use of isolation in state prisons.

            Anthony Gay, who served 24 years in prison after being convicted as a young man, wept during a news conference in Chicago on Tuesday, March 10, as he explained his experience.

            “When the conditions of confinement were psychologically eating me inside out, instead of being removed from solitary confinement and offered adequate psychological counseling, I was prosecuted, given 100 years and buried deeper in solitary confinement for symptoms of mental illness that solitary confinement created,” he said.

            With Gay at the news conference was Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, a Chicago Democrat and lead sponsor of House Bill 182. Ford said the bill will be known as the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act. It would put strict limits on the use of solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes.

            Among other things, it would limit such confinements to no more than 10 consecutive days, 10 days in a 180-day period and require that when inmates are out of their cells, they have access to activities, group therapy, medical treatment, meals, classes, job assignments, visits and exercise.

            Ford, who introduced the bill just before the start of the 2019 legislative session, called the use of extended solitary confinement “devastating and unconstitutional.” But so far, the bill has not had a hearing in the House committee that deals with criminal judicial matters. Ford, however, said he hopes to get the bill through the House before the end of March and send it to the Senate.

            “We have a strong, compelling argument with Mr. Gay, and I think we have a very liberal governor that believes in change like this,” Ford said.


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