Legislative News from Senator Craig Wilcox

Normal is Still on Hold
This past week marked one year since the issuance of the first COVID-19-related Executive Order, and Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the date when the Governor closed schools and prohibited gatherings of over 1,000 people. We have seen 76 individual Executive Orders over the last 12 months, and the legislative branch of state government still remains sidelined as it relates to COVID-19 decision-making. After a full year, Governor Pritzker still insists on going it alone. 

I have continually pushed for increased transparency from the Pritzker Administration, including releasing the data that the Governor has used to make his decisions. The Senate Republican Caucus has also continued to urge the Governor to involve the members of the Legislature in making decisions that involve nearly every aspect of Illinoisans’ daily lives. Instead, Gov. Pritzker has chosen to operate unilaterally via Executive Orders.

So far, the state’s COVID-19 response efforts have been marked with controversy, inconsistent standards for different regions, an unemployment benefit system that remains broken, and relatively poor performance for the vaccination program.

Under the Governor’s Restore Illinois Plan, Illinois would not be allowed to resume normal operations until: “Either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.”

While those conditions would appear to be met, with COVID-19 positivity rates continuing to decline, and vaccination numbers and hospital capacity continuing to quickly rise, the Governor still hasn’t released any details on how the state can move forward toward Phase 5 and some sense of normalcy. 

I am urging the Governor to work with lawmakers, healthcare stakeholders, and employers to develop a plan to ramp up the reopening process. Many businesses and events require significant advanced planning, which still can’t happen with no clear path in place.

Back at the Capitol
The Senate has resumed has its work at the Capitol, and last week committee meetings were held using a combination of virtual and in-person meetings. We will use the same format this week. While a limited number of reporters are being granted access, citizens and lobbyists are currently not allowed to attend. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, real, interactive, face-to-face citizen-involved government has unfortunately been put on hold. The January “lame-duck” session was particularly controversial for its lack of transparency.

Senate Republicans continue to push for improved transparency to restore what Illinois’ favorite son Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he described a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” With this goal in mind, my Senate Republican colleagues and I have been publicizing Senate Committee hearings to help keep the public informed about legislative proposals that impact their lives. To watch or listen to the hearings go to https://www.ilga.gov/senateaudvid.asp.

Members of the Caucus continue to advocate for additional ways to make state government more open and accessible to the people of Illinois. A recent article from the Daily Line underscored the need for improvements in Illinois. In the article, reporter Joel Ebert noted, “According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Illinois is one of just four states that don’t provide easy access to archived floor and committee meetings. As other state legislatures have modernized their technological capabilities, Illinois maintains an outdated system that critics say limits the public’s ability to engage with their government and fuels residents’ distrust of the General Assembly.”

Heavy legislative workload following truncated session year in 2020
As of the deadline for the filing of 2021 substantive bills, nearly 7,000 new proposals have been introduced that create new laws or change existing laws. Senate Committees are currently working their way through vetting these bills. You can see the list of legislation introduced this year at http://www.ilga.gov. You can view my specific legislative agenda at https://www.ilga.gov/senate/SenatorBills.asp?MemberID=2925.

IDNR launces news platform
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) recently announced a new user-friendly licensing, registration and reservation platform to be used by outdoorsmen and women throughout Illinois. According to IDNR, outdoor enthusiasts can visit the newly created platform for assistance and information on hunting and fishing licensing and permitting, watercraft and snowmobile titling, registration and renewals, and campground reservations. There is also a 24/7 call center (866-716-6550) available for customer service support. 

While new users will need to create a username and password, the streamlined system will house all previous profiles, licenses, past purchase information, and active campground reservations for current users.

New Features for Hunters, Anglers, Boaters and Snowmobilers include:

  • Customer dashboard provides information specific to each user’s profile
  • One-stop access to licenses, applications, permits and registrations
  • Eligible products (based on profile data) displayed for fast purchase
  • Auto-renewal for fishing licenses
  • Customers can now title and register their snowmobiles and watercraft online in additional to renewals

New Features for Campground Reservations include:

  • Interactive site maps for users to quickly explore parks and sites
  • Simple attributes to help customers search/filter the available parks and sites
  • Customer profile allows users to manage/change/cancel upcoming reservations
  • Embedded messaging notifications to keep customers aware of park activities or closures 

The new platform can be accessed through ExploreMoreIL.com and Camp.ExploreMoreIL.com.

IDNR to accept grant applications
This week, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced that they will begin accepting grants for four different programs beginning March 5. 

IDNR is now accepting applications for the following:

  • Volunteer Fire Assistance Program: Grants would provide federal funding to fire departments serving populations of 10,000 or less for equipment and training.
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities Program: Grants would offer up to $2,000 per year per project in state funding for improvements to rehabilitation facilities that are licensed to care for endangered and threatened species.
  • State Furbearer Fund: Awards grants to non-profits or universities for projects improving furbearer habitats, projects for purposes of furbearer surveys or investigations, and projects for educating hunters, trappers and the general public about furbearers.
  • Coastal Management Grants Program: Awards grants up to $150,000 in federal funds to non-profits and local governments in the Lake Michigan coastal region.

According to IDNR, each grant program has specific criteria and guidelines that must be met for eligibility. More information on these grant opportunities can be found at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/grants/Pages/default.aspx.

Craig Wilcox

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