Springfield, IL— Following a one-year hiatus, Illinois’ State Fair is underway in Springfield, with patrons facing strict COVID-19 mitigations at all indoor locations and in concert areas. As the pandemic continues to interrupt economic activity across the state, small business owners can begin applying this week for a new series of grants aimed at helping businesses that have struggled over the last 16 months.
Meanwhile, just as school boards began making local decisions regarding safety mitigations for students and staff, a new executive order issued by Gov. Pritzker took those decisions out of local hands and mandated masks for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status. With a growing number of businesses and agencies now requiring vaccines for employees and patrons, the state’s Department of Public Health has launched an online portal where adults can digitally store their proof of vaccination.
In other news, rampant gun violence continues in the City of Chicago. As officials investigate the recent fatal shooting of a Chicago police officer during a traffic stop, it was announced the gun used in the crime was obtained illegally.
Finally, legislation signed into law recently will increase penalties for motorists who endanger first responders by disobeying Scott’s Law. And beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, parents will have greater access to information about violence and bullying in their children’s schools.
2021 State Fair underway in Springfield
After being canceled last year due to COVID-19, this year’s State Fair in Springfield kicked off this past Thursday at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. After the unveiling of this year’s butter cow Wednesday afternoon, gates opened on Thursday but severe weather would cancel many events in the evening.
In the days leading up to the start of the State Fair, new mask mandates and other pandemic mitigations were announced by Gov. Pritzker. On Aug. 6, the Governor announced that masks will be required at all indoor areas at the fair regardless of vaccination status, and that all concertgoers will also be required to wear masks. Additionally, those watching concerts from the “standing room only” areas on the track in front of the grandstands will be required to show paper or digital proof they are fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test that is less than 72 hours old.
Special featured days this year include Kids Day on Aug. 14, Veterans & Gold Star Families Day on Aug. 15, Senior and Scout Day on Aug. 16, Agriculture Day on Aug. 17, First Responder Day on Aug. 20, Park District Conservation Day on Aug. 21, and Family Day on Aug. 22.
New attractions at the fair this year include a “Route 66 Experience,” a flying water circus featuring acrobats performing 40 feet above a swimming pool, and a “Dino-ROAR” exhibit featuring live-action dinosaurs. The fair in Springfield will run from Aug. 12-22. For information regarding vendors, parking, entertainment, etc., please visit https://www2.illinois.gov/statefair/Pages/default.aspx.
Application window opens Aug. 18 for new small business grant program
Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 18, Illinois small business owners can apply for COVID-19 recovery assistance through the new Back to Business (B2B) grant program. The grants are funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The new $250 million rolling grant program builds on last year’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program. Within the new program, $100 million is earmarked for businesses in areas disproportionately affected by the pandemic, $30 million for entertainment and art businesses, $25 million for restaurants and taverns that did not receive grants through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, $25 million for hotels, and $25 million for small businesses that did not receive funds through the BIG program.
To be considered for a grant between $5,000 and $150,000, applicants must demonstrate they had a reduction in revenue in 2020 when compared with 2019, and annual revenues of no more than $20 million in 2019. Hotels with $35 million or less in 2019 revenues are also eligible. As part of the application, businesses must also provide two bank statements, a business owner ID, and federal tax returns for 2019 and 2020.
For more information on how to apply and where to access small business assistance, please visit https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/Pages/default.aspx.
Senate Republicans push for local control in school safety decisions
As the start of the 2021-2022 school year approaches, school districts across the state are making final preparations for students’ return to face-to-face instruction. As local school boards were making COVID-19 safety decisions for students and staff, Gov. Pritzker stepped in with a new executive order requiring masks for all Pre-K-12 students and staff regardless of their vaccination status.
Senator Jil Tracy believes these decisions should be made at the local level by elected school board members, and that decisions should reflect local values and priorities. To that end, Senator Tracy has offered a petition that people can sign to show their support for local control in these COVID-9 decisions. Specifically, the petition states, “Do you believe that locally elected school boards should have the authority to decide what safety precautions and protocols are in place for their students and staff?” The petition can be accessed at: https://www.ilsenategop.org/localcontrol.
“Vax Verify” system launched for digital vaccine proof
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has launched a new database that allows Illinoisans ages 18 and older to store digital confirmation of their vaccination status online. Proponents of the database claim that having a digital version of one’s completed vaccination card provides for easy access when proof of vaccination is required at work, international travel, at an event, or any other time proof of vaccination is requested or required. Because users would have to enter personal information to be cross referenced and verified, opponents believe the database would expose private personal and health information to hackers. To read the IDPH announcement about the new portal, visit https://www.dph.illinois.gov/news/idph-launches-online-vax-verify-system.
Young Chicago police officer killed with illegally-obtained gun
Illinois is mourning the death of 29-year-old Chicago police officer Ella French, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop on Aug. 7. As details begin to emerge about the shooting, which also critically wounded a second officer, National Public Radio is reporting the gun used to kill Officer French was obtained illegally through a straw purchase in Indiana. Two men are in custody for these crimes.
When House Bill 562 (Fix the FOID) was debated in the Senate earlier this year, Senate Republicans argued the legislation did not address root causes of gun violence, but instead heaped new restrictions onto lawful gun owners. Despite opposition from Senate Republicans, HB 562 was approved and signed into law. HB 562 does nothing to strengthen penalties against criminals who obtain guns illegally through straw purchases, which occurs when a legal gun owner purchases a gun for an individual who is ineligible to own a firearm.
Legislation enhancing penalties for Scott’s Law signed
Through bipartisan legislation signed on Thursday, those who fail to change lanes and slow down when approaching an emergency response vehicle on the road will face steeper penalties through an enhancement of Scott’s Law.
At the discretion of a presiding judge, violators of Scott’s Law currently face a fine of between $250 and $10,000 for a first offense, and a fine of between $750 and $10,000 for a second office. Through Senate Bill 1913, in addition to paying a fine, violators may also have a community service requirement added to their ruling. The bill received unanimous support in the Senate and House and was also supported by several other individuals and groups, including the Secretary of State, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, the Illinois Municipal League, and the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association.
Illinois public schools to start reporting school violence data
Through legislation unanimously supported by Senate Republicans and recently signed into law, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) must begin collecting and reporting data on incidents of violence in school settings or during school-sanctioned activities.
Under Senate Bill 633, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, all incidents at public schools that result in a student or students receiving an out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or transfer to an alternative school setting must be reported annually on each school district’s official school report card.
According to a recent School Survey on Crime and Safety administered by the U.S. Department of Education, an estimated 962,300 incidents of violence occurred in U.S. public schools across the country in 2017-2018. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident during the 2017-2018 school year.