The Spin: Lightfoot loosens COVID-19 restrictions at outdoor venues amid uptick in cases | Legislature considers making Juneteenth a state holiday | ‘Defund the police’ on Oak Park ballot

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Lisa Donovan, Chicago Tribune
·9 min read
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today the city will loosen COVID-19 restrictions, including outdoor dining, exercise classes along with performance and wedding venues.

“Citing a worrying increase in coronavirus cases, Lightfoot said she will keep current capacity limits at indoor establishments,” my colleagues write.

Asked in a phone call with reporters whether she’s sending mixed messages, the mayor said she believes the increase in cases is tied to indoor events where people aren’t wearing masks, the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt and Alice Yin writes.

The state Senate today approved a health care overhaul that represents the fourth and final piece of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ social justice agenda, my Tribune colleague Dan Petrella reports. The measure, approved by the House last week, heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

Meantime, an Illinois Senate committee this week advanced a proposal to make Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in this country, a paid state holiday.

And in Oak Park, a referendum question on the April 6 ballot asks voters whether they favor or reject “defunding the police” amid a national reckoning on race and policing in this country.

Welcome to The Spin.

Biden, in first news conference, talks about shepherding agenda through senate, expects to run for re-election in 2024

From The Associated Press: “President Joe Biden at his first news conference Thursday left the door open to pushing for fundamental changes in Senate procedures to muscle key elements of his agenda such as immigration and voting rights past firm Republican opposition ‘if there’s complete lockdown and chaos.’

“The 78-year-old president also, for the first time, said his ‘plan is to run for reelection, that is my expectation.’” Read the full AP story here.

Biden opened the news conference by pledging that the nation will administer 200 million doses by the time he marks 100 days in office. The administration already hit Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses.

Before the news conference, the White House sent out a news release announcing Illinois health centers would be getting nearly $270 million in federal money to help boost vaccination and COVID-19 treatment in communities most vulnerable to the virus. That likely will help in meeting the president’s new goal.

It’s part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill Biden signed into law earlier this month. In all,1,400 health centers nationwide will get $6 billion in funding, according to The Associated Press.

That means 45 health centers across Illinois, including 19 in Chicago, will get a slice of the $269-plus million, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For a complete list, read here.

Data points: Health centers serve 1 in 5 rural residents and 1 in 11 people nationwide. More than 91% of patients live at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, and nearly 63% are racial or ethnic minorities, according to HHS statistics.

Lightfoot loosens COVID-19 restrictions amid uptick in cases

On a call with reporters today, “Lightfoot was asked whether it sends mixed messages to warn about increasing cases but expand outdoor capacity,” Gregory Pratt and Alice Yin write. “Lightfoot said the spike in cases is more due to indoor activities with people not wearing masks.” Details here.

Lightfoot has warned multiple times this week that she’s concerned about Chicago is “going in the wrong direction” as the city sees a slight uptick in cases.

Gov. Pritzker, who along with his family makes his home in Chicago, said this week he’s also concerned about the increase in cases here.

Loretto Hospital doctor embroiled in vaccine controversy resigns, officials say — Gregory Pratt and Stacy St. Clair have the details here.

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Illinois Senate sends Black Caucus health care overhaul and measure allowing permanent use of election drop boxes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus-backed bill to overhaul health care, approved by the Senate today, addresses racial disparities in the state’s health and human services system made plain by the COVID-19 outbreak, sponsors say.

The Tribune’s Petrella explains the legislation “would permit workers to use their sick days to care for a parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparent or stepparent; require Medicaid to cover doula services for pregnant women; and make implicit bias training a continuing education requirement for health care professionals, among a host of other changes.” It would also place a moratorium on hospital closures through the pandemic. Read more here.

The bill follows Black Caucus-backed measures addressing criminal justice, education and the economy that were approved during the General Assembly’s January lame-duck session and signed into law by Pritzker.

More bills: “Separate legislation that would allow for permanent use of ballot drop boxes — introduced for the November election due to health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic — also received final approval in the Senate on Thursday after being approved in the House last week,” Petrella writes.

Juneteenth to become an Illinois holiday? An Illinois state Senate committee advanced a measure this week that would make Juneteenth Day, which marks the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery on June 19, 1865, a state holiday, WLS-Ch. 7 reports.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, is sponsoring the measure that is now headed to the Senate floor for debate, the station reports.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has previously said he wants to work with the statehouse to designate Juneteenth as an official state holiday.

Last year, the Cook County board approved Juneteenth as a holiday for county government workers, making it the largest populated county to grant a paid day off to celebrate both Black Americans’ freedom from slavery and their contributions to the nation, the Tribune’s Alice Yin wrote at the time.

The federal government does not officially recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday, and Chicago’s City Council has instead designated it as a nonbinding day of observance despite previous attempts to make it an official holiday with all offices closed, Yin reported.

Lightfoot introduces plan requiring developers to set aside more affordable housing units downtown, gentrifying neighborhoods

My Tribune colleagues Sarah Freishtat and Darcel Rockett write: “Housing developers building downtown and in gentrifying neighborhoods would have to boost the number of affordable units they create” under the reworked Affordable Requirements Ordinance, introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s housing department at this week’s City Council meeting.

Among the changes: “The current ordinance requires residential developers putting up buildings with more than 10 units who receive city funding, require a zoning change or build on city-owned land to designate at least 10% of the units for rents below market rate or pay fees to the city.

“The revised ordinance would raise the bar to 20% for developers of rental housing downtown, in neighborhoods with little affordable housing or in gentrifying areas.” Read more here.

Cook County Land Bank head announces resignation, heading to private sector job, the Tribune’s Alice Yin reports. The agency is tasked with getting vacant land redeveloped to create more affordable housing.

On Chicago’s Southeast Side, residents and activists sending message to industry and government: We’re not a dumping ground

For Southeast Side residents and activists pushing back over a proposed scrap shredding operation, which exited a gentrified pocket of the North Side after pollution complaints, this is about sending a message to industry and government officials that they no longer want neighborhoods once home to Big Steel to continue serving as dumping grounds.

As the Tribune’s Will Lee writes, “Some activists and concerned residents are hopeful that the ... fight (over the scrap shredding operation), which now involves accusations of environmental racism and a federal investigation into city and state permitting, will build momentum that could spread to other major areas of environmental concern.” Read the full story here.

City permit delays for scrap-shredder: The Sun-Times’ Brett Chase reported earlier this month that the Lightfoot administration “is seeking more information about the cumulative air pollution” around the proposed scrap-metal shredding operation, “an inquiry that delays the city’s permitting for the controversial business.”

Another battle, Lee notes in his piece “is the toxic sludge tank at Calumet Park at the mouth of the Calumet River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reneging on an agreement to remove the tank and convert the area into a community park.” Read more about the project here.

“The Illinois General Assembly allowed the Army Corps to use (the sludge tank) with the idea that, once full, it would be topped off and handed over to the Chicago Park District for redevelopment as a park.”

April 6 election: Defunding the police question is on the ballot in Oak Park

“When Oak Park voters receive their ballots for the April 6 election, they will be asked to weigh in on a topic that has polarized the community in recent months,” Steve Schering writes for the Pioneer Press’ Oak Leaves.

Voters have the option to vote yes or no to the question “Shall the village of Oak Park defund its Police Department?”

The nonbinding referendum may guide budget decisions but those “for and against reducing the police department’s budget agree the issue is more complicated than a simple question can answer,” Schering notes in his piece.

The question of “defunding” or cutting police budgets has been raised by activists over white police officers killing unarmed Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, which sparked nationwide protests over racism in law enforcement.

But with crime on the rise in places such as Oak Park, Chicago and other cities nationwide, questions have been raised by police chiefs and elected leaders about slashing police budgets, some of whom argue better training and other reforms are the answer.

Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at ldonovan@chicagotribune.com.

Twitter @byldonovan