Thank you for taking the time to read this edition of “Friess Frame.” I’m excited to share a variety of things with you today, from a local event I have coming up to important news about IDES, the “Safe-T Act,” and Illinois Agriculture.
As always, it’s an honor to serve as your State Representative. If there’s any way that I can serve you, please feel free to visit my district office in Red Bud or call 618-282-7284.
State Representative David Friess
On Tuesday, August 8th, I will be teaming up with Senator Terri Bryant to host a Senior Fair at Red Bud High School. There you can receive helpful guides, literature, and other resources from a variety of state, county, and local senior service agencies. General Assembly staff members will be on-hand to assist constituents with their state government concerns. Complimentary refreshments will be served. I hope to see you there!
Audit Finds Illinois paid out $5.2 billion in Fraudulent or Excessive Unemployment “Overpayments” During COVID-19
An audit report released this week by the Illinois Auditor General revealed that the State of Illinois paid out more than $5.2 billion in fraudulent or excessive unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, including $46 million in payments to incarcerated or deceased persons.
The Illinois Auditor General on Wednesday published a report that showed how the state agency that distributes unemployment benefits issued “overpayments” to the tune of $5.2 billion in fraudulent or excessive claims from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2022. The report is the fullest accounting yet of the large-scale fraud and overpayments that occurred in Illinois during the pandemic.
Of the $5.2 billion, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) overpaid by about $2 billion for regular unemployment insurance and by $3.2 billion for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) put in place following the outbreak of COVID.
Overall, $2.8 billion has been classified as identity theft – money not considered recoverable since it can’t be collected from the identity theft victim. According to the audit, only about a 10th of the total $5.2 billion has been recovered.
Unemployment surged in Illinois, as it did in the rest of the country, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Businesses were forced to cut back their operations, if not shut down, leaving many Illinois residents out of work and creating an unprecedented level of demand for unemployment insurance.
“IDES was not prepared to respond to the needs created by the pandemic,” the report states. “IDES did not have a plan for responding to recessions and potential surges in claims.”
IDES was recently audited, revealing over $5 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims over two years. What’s even worse is that the real number is likely higher. I have joined my Republican colleagues in calling for IDES reforms to prevent fraud, but we were shut down by the Pritzker Administration. These kind of failures are catastrophic and cannot continue. For the sake of our citizens and job creators, these failures should be investigated and prevented.
MoDOT Holds Public Meeting on Chester Bridge
On Wednesday, July 19th, MoDOT held a public meeting to discuss updated plans to replace the Chester Bridge.
MoDOT, in partnership with Ames Construction, will construct a three-tower, cable-stayed bridge, just north of the existing structure. Completion is anticipated by the end of 2026.
At the meeting, the project team was available to answer questions about their upcoming work.
If you were unable to attend, the information shared from the meeting will be available at Chester Bridge | Missouri Department of Transportation (modot.org).
Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Elimination of Cash Bail
The Illinois Supreme Court has announced its opinion on the Pretrial Fairness portion of the SAFE-T Act, and by a 5-2 decision, they have ruled it as constitutional. This strikes down a lower court ruling in December 2022 which found that the portions of the SAFE-T Act that abolished cash bail were unconstitutional. Thus, the elimination of cash bail is now set to go into effect on September 18, 2023 in Illinois. Illinois becomes the first state in the U.S. to totally eliminate cash bail, and it comes at a time when crime in the state remains at the top of the nation.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court confirms Illinois’ status as the state of lawlessness and disorder,” stated FOP State Lodge President Chris Southwood. “The court ignored the pleas of nearly every prosecutor in the state of Illinois, Democrat and Republican, that the elimination of cash bail will put dangerous criminals back on the street instead of keeping them in jail or forcing them to post cash bail as they await trial. Many of those offenders will commit crimes again within hours of their release.”
The elimination of cash bail was included as part of the controversial, sweeping criminal justice reform legislation known as the SAFE-T Act, which was passed by the 101st General Assembly on the last day of its Lame Duck Session and signed into law by Gov. Pritzker in February 2021. The Pretrial Fairness Act, which abolishes the current cash bail system, was slated to take effect on January 1, 2023.
However, lawsuits were filed by state’s attorneys in 65 counties alleging abolishing cash bail was unconstitutional. On December 28, 2022, Kankakee County Judge Thomas Cunnington found that the pretrial release portions of the SAFE-T Act violated the bail clause, the crime victims’ rights clause, and the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court issued a stay on December 31, 2022, delaying the effective date of the Pretrial Fairness Act until it heard arguments and ruled on its constitutionality.
The Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments on both sides of the case on March 14, with the lawsuits over cash bail pitting Gov. Pritzker and the state’s Democratic leaders against nearly half of Illinois’ state’s attorneys and county sheriffs. The Court took up the case on an expedited schedule.
The Supreme Court’s opinion said that the Illinois Constitution does not mandate that monetary bail is the only means to ensure criminal defendants appear for trials or the only means to protect the public. The law eliminates the cash bail system currently used in court which let those who could afford it pay their way out of jail while others who could not make bond would remain in jail. The SAFE-T Act lets judges decide who gets pretrial release and who should be held in custody.
Supporters of eliminating cash bail argue that it gives courts the ability to look at a number of factors for pretrial decisions without focusing on a person’s ability to pay. Opponents of eliminating cash bail believe the law handcuffs judges, who will now only be able to detain people charged with specific felony crimes. There are also arguments that this law will make the state less safe by releasing more violent criminals back into society.
Illinois House Republicans opposed the SAFE-T Act and the elimination of cash bail, as the legislation passed with only Democratic votes. Leader Tony McCombie established the Truth in Public Safety Working Group during the Spring 2023 Session. The group met multiple times over 10 weeks with stakeholders and presented a package of bills that included multiple changes to the SAFE-T Act and the Pretrial Fairness Act. The working group met with Democrats to discuss the proposals at the end of the spring session, but nothing has moved forward
The citizens of Illinois deserve to live, work, and raise their families in their communities without fear for their safety. Today, the Illinois Supreme Court acted to uphold the “no cash bail” provision of the SAFE-T Act. Our state will be the first to enact a no cash bail system, and at a time when our crime rates are also at the top of the nation. This decision is extremely disappointing, and a loss for public safety in Illinois.
Illinois Corn Industry Sounds Alarm Over Potential New Federal Rule
The rule, which has been put out for comments by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would speed up the transition from motor fuel-based vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) by requiring two-thirds of new car sales to be EVs by the year 2032. This rule, if it is promulgated and not found to be unconstitutional, would sharply reduce demand not only for crude oil and oil-based gasoline but also for corn-based ethanol.
In its comment, the Illinois Corn Growers Association projects that the proposed EV mandate rule, if put into place, would reduce future demand for U.S. corn by 1 billion bushels/year. This would have a potentially massive, negative effect on the price of corn, the value of farmland used to grow corn, and the status of financing used to back this farmland and enable its transfer and productive use.
Unemployment Rate at 4% in June
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate was down -0.1 percentage points to 4.0 percent in June, the fourth consecutive monthly decline. Nonfarm payrolls increased by +8,400 in June. Both estimates are based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The May revised unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, unchanged from the preliminary May unemployment rate. The May monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report, from +2,500 to +5,400 jobs. The June unemployment rate and payroll jobs estimate reflect activity for the week including the 12th.
In June, the industry sectors with the largest over-the-month job gains included: Educational and Health Services (+5,300), Construction (+2,900), Leisure and Hospitality (+2,900), and Government (+2,900). The industry sectors with monthly payroll job declines included: Professional and Business Services (-5,400), Manufacturing (-2,100), and Trade, Transportation and Utilities (-2,000).
The state’s unemployment rate was +0.4 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for June, tied with May for the smallest difference since February 2020 (pre-pandemic). The national unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in June, down -0.1 percentage points from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -0.4 percentage points from a year ago when it was at 4.4 percent.