Gov Day 1

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is interviewed by members of the media after the conclusion of the Governor’s Day rally in August at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. 

SPRINGFIELD — A package of bills aimed at transforming the state’s energy landscape appears unlikely to move during the upcoming fall veto session after Gov. J.B. Pritzker was less than optimistic on the subject this week at an unrelated Chicago news conference.

“It’s certainly something that’s being considered as part of a broader energy package,” Pritzker said of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, one of the main bills backed by green energy advocates. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to get to it during the veto session.”

The Clean Energy Jobs Act, or CEJA, and a series of other bills faltered at the end of the regular legislative session in May after several committee hearings. Legislators and stakeholders at the time said their goal was to revive the bills for fall veto session, which begins Oct. 28.

While it looks like the reforms are once again on the back burner until at least January, Pritzker spoke in support of CEJA at a news conference Monday, Oct. 7, and said Illinois is already falling short of goals that require the state to hit 16 percent renewable energy generation by 2020.

“We only have about 7 percent of our power being generated by wind and less than 1 percent by solar. We can do so much better, and we need to continue that drive toward renewables and toward clean energy policies,” he said at the news conference Monday.

In August, Vistra Energy, one of the leading energy producers in downstate Illinois, closed four of its eight coal-fired power plants in the state, accelerating calls for energy reforms from various industry players.

Despite those calls, uncertainty has surrounded the energy conversation as Exelon, the parent company of northern Illinois energy supplier ComEd and one of the main advocates for capacity market reforms, has been under federal investigation for its lobbying activities, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Capacity market reforms are also a key piece of CEJA, currently contained in House Bill 3624, sponsored by Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago.

That 365-page bill gives the state greater authority to purchase energy capacity for northern Illinois, allowing it to set its own standards for how much of that capacity comes from renewable energy generators. It also creates programs incentivizing electrification of the transportation sector among several other provisions.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said discussions of a comprehensive energy package have progressed during summer meetings between stakeholders, but the sheer size of the task of bringing together various industries has proved difficult.

Cameras at red lights

Bipartisan support appears to be building in the Illinois General Assembly for a statewide ban on red-light cameras.

Those are devices that some municipalities install at intersections to detect drivers running through red lights or turning without coming to a full stop.

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Critics of those devices, however, argue they serve only to generate revenue and are a potential source of political corruption.

“Studies have shown that it does not improve safety. In fact, that it increases rear-end collisions,” Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said in an interview. “So this is really a revenue grab by local governments. And, as we've seen recently, this is obviously tied up, but likely with corruption.”

McSweeney was referring to recent news reports indicating that one private company, SafeSpeed LLC, which supplies red-light cameras to several Chicago suburbs, is the focus of a federal probe that led to raids on the offices and home of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, chairman of the powerful Senate Transportation Committee.

McSweeney has introduced several bills in recent years to ban the use of red-light cameras. One of those passed the House in 2015 but died in the Senate. Another one, House Bill 323, introduced in January, is still pending in the House, and last week it picked up two new Democratic co-sponsors, Reps. Rita Mayfield, of Waukegan, and Sam Yingling, of Grayslake.

And on Monday, Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, introduced a virtually identical bill, House Bill 3909.

Obesity concerns

Current and former leaders of the Illinois Air National Guard said Tuesday, Oct. 8, the obesity rate in the United States has become a national security threat and they urged state lawmakers to invest more in early childhood education programs that focus on nutrition, health and physical activity.

Speaking at the Springfield school district’s Early Learning Center, Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, and three retired generals pointed to a recent study entitled “Unhealthy and Unprepared in Illinois.” It found 70 percent of young adults aged 17 to 24 in Illinois cannot qualify for military service, including 31 percent who would be disqualified due to obesity.

Those numbers are almost identical to national averages, and the report says it’s a major reason why the U.S. Army fell short of its recruiting goals in 2018.

“As a commander who over the years has really served at all different levels within the organization, it’s surprising to see how challenging recruiting has become over the years,” Neely said. “I was not shocked by it because we’ve seen this in the recruiting numbers, but it was very nice to have the report to then really back up the data that we’re seeing through our experiences.”

Neely was joined at the news conference by retired Gens. Mark Rabin, William Cabetto and Jay Sheedy, all of the Illinois Air National Guard. They are among roughly 750 current or retired generals and admirals who make up a national group, Mission: Readiness, an operation of the Council for a Strong America. Rabin said the purpose of Mission: Readiness is, “to promote physical fitness amongst children so that they grow up into productive and healthy human beings.”

Tim Carpenter, Illinois state director of the Mission: Readiness program, said he believes it’s important for state lawmakers to recognize the value to national security of early childhood education.

“Ongoing trends in obesity must be reversed before our national security is further compromised,” he said. “So we’re calling on state legislators to continue to prioritize investments that promote nutrition and encourage physical activity from an early age, and those continued investments will help us to achieve our goal of ensuring more of our youngest learners can enter kindergarten and start life healthy and better prepared for success in whatever they may choose when they grow up.”

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