SPRINGFIELD – As electric bills soar for customers across the state, Senate Republicans filed a new legislative package this week seeking to address Illinois’ energy problems.
Also, this week lawmakers held a hearing following the troubling findings of a recent performance audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Meanwhile, new data released July 28 shows that the United States’ economy has hit a recession. And Illinois’ unemployment rate continues to lag surrounding states.
Sen. Tracy working to help utility customers hit with higher bills
State Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) is working to help western Illinois utility customers who are being hit with higher bills this summer because of steep increases in electric rates.
Tracy is the chief cosponsor of a three-piece legislative package – Senate Bills 4215, 4216 and 4217 – that will help ensure Illinois’ high-energy production remains intact.
“As Illinois is a top energy producer AND a top energy consuming state, we need protections in place for our energy production, grid capacity, and consumption systems,” Tracy said. “We are proposing proactive measures that focus on preventing future utility price spikes and/or rolling blackouts throughout our state by securing Illinois’ energy-producing capabilities.”
Senate Bill 4215 would repeal the forced 2045 closure date for coal and natural gas power plants implemented under Gov. JB Pritzker’s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) of 2021. The new legislation would also allow companies to build new gas “peaker” plants – which generally run only when there is a high demand for electricity – without the fear of a forced closure.
Senate Bill 4216 would repurpose $10 million from fees assessed to fund clean technology for retrofitting coal and natural gas plants with carbon capturing technology. It also creates a new Power Grid Task Force to study the effect of state laws, including CEJA, on energy prices and grid reliability. The Task Force would also study ways to improve the power supply mix within the state and deployment of new technologies.
Senate Bill 4217 would eliminate “red tape” at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has been preventing new power plants from coming online in a timely manner by expediting the state permitting process. The Lincoln Land Energy Center in Pawnee, for example, started the permitting process with the Illinois EPA in 2017 with a goal of finishing construction by 2022. The power plant is still waiting for the approval of its final construction permit, which it filed with the Illinois EPA more than seven months ago.
“There needs to be a middle-ground when it comes to our transition to cleaner energy. Instead of shutting down power plants, how about we work to retrofit them in a way to eliminate carbon emissions,” Tracy said. “We must also do more to make sure Illinois’ permitting process does not bog new projects down, to the detriment of our energy systems and their customers.”
As recent electric rate hikes are impacting western Illinois utility customers, Tracy is recommending individuals check out financial assistance programs. Information about that assistance and the rate hike can be found at https://senatorjiltracy.com/2022/07/26/ameren-electric-rate-increase-frequently-asked-questions/.
DCFS Director takes heat over Department’s dysfunction
Following a scathing performance audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the Legislative Audit Commission (LAC) met to ask questions of its director, Marc Smith.
The audit found a list of upsetting findings including DCFS’s negligence in ensuring that children in its care are receiving their well-child visits and check-ups. Of the cases tested, nearly 20 percent of children were missing at least one physical examination.
Additionally, the report found that DCFS lacked major control over the Home Safety Checklists and lacked required documentation for families involved in after-service care.
Despite these unsettling findings, Director Smith stated in the LAC hearing that his agency is “one of the best child welfare systems in the country.” Since the start of this year, Smith has been held in contempt of court 12 times for failing to properly place youth in care. And since December, nine kids on the radar of Illinois DCFS have died. Still, Gov. Pritzker says he has complete confidence in Director Smith and has failed to remove him from the position.
Tracy says what is happening at DCFS is a disgrace and there needs to be accountability.
New GDP data indicates that U.S. has entered a recession
A key measure of economic output fell for the second straight quarter indicating the United States is in a recession. On July 28, it was announced that gross domestic product fell 0.9 percent in the second quarter from April to June.
According to the traditional definition of a recession, which is two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction, this new data means that the U.S. has entered a recession. In anticipation of this bad economic news, President Joe Biden’s administration has tried to redefine what a recession is, claiming that the U.S. has not yet hit a recession, according to the definition from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
The NBER’s definition states a recession is a “significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months.”
Tracy says despite what definition is used to determine a recession, this news is not good and does not paint a rosy picture of the economy that is being hit with record high inflation and rising interest rates.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, the unemployment rate continues to fall behind all surrounding states. Illinois’ economy added 18,800 jobs during the month of June, but its unemployment rate, now at 4.5 percent, is still the worst in comparison to neighboring states.
Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin all had jobless rates below 3 percent while Kentucky is at 3.7 percent. In fact, Illinois’ 4.5 percent rate is the fifth worst in the nation.