by Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

November 16, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL — A new Illinois law requires all candidates to disclose the sources of their contributions, with the goal of prohibiting out-of-state contributions and so-called “dark money” in judicial campaigns.

Gov. J. B. Pritzker singed into law Monday Senate Bill 536 which prohibits judicial campaign committees from accepting contributions from out-of-state sources or from any person or entity that does not disclose the identity of those making the contribution, with the exception of contributions that are less than the itemizing threshold.

The bill also raises the contribution threshold for itemizing contributions from $500 to $1,000.  It also prohibits people from making or accepting anonymous contributions, as well as contributions made in the name of someone else.

On the final day of the fall veto session, Democrats pushed the bill through the General Assembly.  It arose in part in response to the 2020 elections, in which Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride, a Democrat, was defeated for re-election, the first time in state history that a state Supreme Court justice was defeated for re-election.

According to campaign finance reports, a group called Citizens for Judicial Fairness legally spent more than $5.9 million on a campaign to defeat Killbride.  However, the campaign also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from so-called dark money organizations, such as the Judicial Fairness Project, which does not reveal its donors.

Kilbride’s campaign spent nearly $4 million on his behalf, with the majority of the funds coming from labor unions, trial lawyers, and the Democratic Party of Illinois.

“Trying to avoid dark money in elections is something that I think we can all get behind.  As a result, the change would prevent out-of-state and untraceable money from entering our judicial races, thereby preserving the integrity of those judicial elections.” Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, said during a House floor debate.

GOP members, on the other hand, claimed it was a partisan move designed to help Democrats maintain their current 4-3 majority on the court.

“I can’t help but notice that the impetus for great changes in how we conduct elections for the judiciary in the state of Illinois, both the remapping of the Supreme Court (and) the change in campaign finance activities comes after, for the first time in the history of our state, a Democratic Supreme Court justice lost his retention in the 2020 election . . . this is another effort for the majority to change the rules of the game because they don’t like the outcome,” said Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria.

The bill was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, 72-42 in the House and 41-17 in the Senate.

Gov. Pritzker Awards First $24 Million in “Back to Business” Grants

by Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

September 30, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Governor J. B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced today that the first grants under the Back to Business (B2B) recovery program have been awarded. 

521 grants totaling more than $24 million have been awarded to small businesses in 146 cities across Illinois to assist them in dealing with the acute operational impacts of COVID-19.  The first wave of funding provided through this program supports a diverse range of businesses representing industries and geographies hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than half of the grants going to minority-owned businesses in Illinois. 

Overall, the B2B initiative will provide $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to small businesses that have suffered COVID-19 losses, and grants will be distributed on a rolling basis.  Eligible firms are invited to apply by visiting the DCEO website before the October 13 deadline.

“I am excited to announce the first $24 million in Back to Business grants – just the beginning of our efforts to distribute over $250 million to small business owners across the state,” said Governor J. B. Pritzker. “This first wave of B2B funds will help over 500 of our state’s entrepreneurs rehire staff and cover operating costs – without owing a single cent back. And as Illinois rebuilds and recovers, we will continue to step up for our small businesses. They deserve to breathe easier and dream bigger – it’s our mission to deliver the funds and resources they need to do so.”

The B2B initiative will award grants ranging in size from $5,000 to $150,000 to assist in the restoration of operational losses caused during the pandemic.  The first wave of funds announced today has reached businesses that are most in need of support due to the pandemic.

Businesses with revenues of $5 million or less, as well as those who did not obtain an award under the BIG program, are given priority throughout the evaluation period, with $25 million made available for businesses that applied but did not receive money under that program.

Furthermore, firms located within DIAs are being prioritized, with over $100 million set aside for certain zip codes.


by Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

September 13, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL —  A 1,000-page clean energy proposal is now on the desk of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.  The new law will raise residents’ utility bills by up to $180 per year, in part to fund new nuclear power plant subsidies and begin the transition to carbon-free energy BY 2050.

The proposal includes a new multimillion-dollar subsidy for Exelon’s nuclear power plants in the name of preserving energy generation that does not rely on fossil fuels, which emit climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere.

The bill also calls for the eventual phase-out of coal and gas-fired energy production, as well as job training for workers interested in setting up solar and wind power facilities.

The bill also establishes an ethics standard for utilities to meet given the criticism of a $700 million bailout for Exelon, whose subsidiary, utility giant ComEd, has admitted to federal prosecutors that it engaged in a decade-long bribery scheme in Springfield and is cooperating in an ongoing investigation that has implicated former House Speaker Michael Madigan and led to indictments.

Gov. Pritzker stated that he would sign it into law as soon as possible.


by Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

August 31, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Gov. JB Pritzker announced today that a 46-member Urban Search and Rescue Team, as well as the necessary mission equipment, will deploy to Louisiana to assist with water rescues caused by Hurricane Ida’s flash flooding and dangerous storm surges.

Urban Search and Rescue teams collaborate with local rescuers to conduct search, rescue, and recovery missions in flooded areas.  The team can provide on-the-spot emergency medical care, emergency transportation for medical necessities, and assistance with helicopter rescue operations in water environments.

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a mutual aid agreement that allows states to request assistance from other states during emergencies, coordinates assistance requests.

The MABAS team will depart from Wheeling on Monday morning after receiving event identification, mission and safety briefings, and mobilization assistance.  This process ensures the accountability and readiness of personnel and state assets prior to departure.


by Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

August 15, 2021

SPRINGFIELD — Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 219 into law on Friday to foster safe and inclusive classrooms. The bill seeks to end the use of physical restraints to discipline students in public schools.  The legislation, which has received widespread bipartisan support, aims to eliminate solitary confinement and other restrictive interventions within three years, while also expanding school-based training and accountability for these practices.

According to Pritzker “Our students deserve a safe and quality education, no matter their zip code, background, or learning ability . . . The use of dangerous, physically restrictive discipline on our students runs entirely counter to that mission. It is appalling and entirely unacceptable – and it must be brought to an end in Illinois. This legislation ensures that our schools are meeting the needs of all students as we uphold our obligation to educate and protect all of Illinois’ children.”

The bill prohibits prone restraint, a type of behavioral intervention in which pressure is applied to hold an individual’s face down.  To allow for a gradual phase-out, prone restraint may be permitted only as an emergency measure until the end of the 2021-22 school year.

The use of medical and chemical restraint is also prohibited by the bill.

The legislation requires that timeouts, isolated timeouts, and other forms of physical restraint be used only if a student’s behavior poses an immediate danger to the individual student or others, and that the school staff member using the invention tactic be trained in its safe application.

To ensure long-term change, the measure will impose stricter staff training requirements as well as increased accountability, transparency, and reporting requirements for these practices in the future.

The bill directs the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to develop a plan by 2024 to significantly reduce the use of such practices. ISBE will also establish, subject to appropriations, a grant program for school districts to implement culturally sensitive, trauma-informed interventions, and restorative practices within a multi-tiered support system.  Priority grant funding for staff training is available to school districts that develop plans more quickly.


by Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

August 10, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Governor J. B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced a new $10 million grant program aimed at revitalizing the state’s struggling tourism industry by reintroducing new and returning tourism attractions and festivals.

The Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant program is made possible by federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and is part of a larger effort underway by the Pritzker administration to help revitalize tourism in Illinois and put the industry on a path to economic recovery following COVID-19.

Tourism and festival businesses and entities can apply for grants of up to $1 million through a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) issued today. These grants can be used to establish and improve tourism attractions or festivals planned for this year or next.  Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are depleted, with quarterly awards made, and the department will be able to fund applications that are most closely aligned to eligibility criteria approved for immediate funding.

The Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant program will assist in the development of new or improved tourism attractions throughout the state, including but not limited to museums, businesses, events, performances, and festivals.  To maximize the program’s impact, DCEO will use ARPA federal recovery funds to provide grants ranging from $10,000 to $1 million, with a local match required.  The program’s goal is to attract more visitors and overnight stays, which will increase foot traffic in communities across Illinois.

Local government units, municipalities, counties, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and local promotion groups are all eligible applicants.  The funds may be used for capital projects, equipment, training, transportation, housing, receptions, entertainment, photography, temporary housing, and interpretive programs, such as exhibits and installations, in order to develop new attractions and events that will attract visitors to Illinois

Proposed attractions and festivals must demonstrate how this award will benefit local businesses and will be evaluated based on marketing value and ability to attract overnight visitors.  Projects will be given a higher score if they are close to commercial corridors and services, such as hotels, restaurants, retail, and other commercial operations.

This additional tourism industry support comes on the heels of the launch of a new campaign earlier this year to reinvigorate the industry and assist convention and visitor bureau (CVB) partners in attracting visitors back to all areas across the state.  “Time for Me to Drive,” is the first new tourism campaign since COVID-19 went into effect last year, and it capitalizes on pent-up travel demand – specifically road trips – to encourage residents and visitors to enjoy Illinois’ diverse communities and scenic landscapes in a safe manner.

The campaign includes over 60 distinct itineraries; for more information, visit the State’s official tourism website,