SPRINGFIELD – House Republicans are accusing Gov. J.B. Pritzker of revoking his own state board appointments as political retribution for votes he did not agree with.
“We came down here today because we think it’s important to call attention to some seemingly heavy-handed tactics that the administration has taken recently regarding some dissent,” Republican Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon said.
Demmer and Rep. Norine Hammond, a Macomb Republican, raised their concerns Thursday at an Illinois State Capitol news conference, specifically noting a pair of Pritzker actions regarding the Teachers’ Retirement System board and the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
Pritzker withdrew his own appointments of Julie Hamos and Michael Gelder from the state health facilities review board less than a week after the board voted unanimously to allow the owners of Westlake Hospital to close the Melrose Park facility.
Pritzker’s office said in a statement the decision was made “in order to appoint members who more closely share the governor’s vision for hospitals around the state.”
In March, the Teachers’ Retirement System board opposed Pritzker’s pension plan to diminish statutorily mandated payments – a plan the governor has since scrapped.
A month later, two holdovers from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration were removed from the board.
“We can’t have these boards fearing their decisions must first be vetted by the governor,” Hammond said.
In response to questions about the Republicans’ claims, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said, “The governor has appointed and will continue to appoint highly qualified people who share his vision to serve on boards and commissions across the state.”
A bill that would require Illinois-headquartered corporations to include women and minorities on their boards of directors is now being considered in the Senate, where a committee chairwoman on Thursday suggested changes could be applied.
House Bill 3394 stirred heated debate when it passed out of the House last month. In its original form, it would have required every publicly traded corporation that has its main executive headquarters in Illinois to have at least one African-American and one woman on its board of directors, and it would impose financial penalties on corporations that fail to comply.
So far in the Senate, it has been expanded to include Latino representation as well, and it now provides that one person can serve to fill two or more categories.
Speaking to the Senate Commerce and Economic Development Committee, Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Cahokia, a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said it is not intended to be punitive.
“The intent of it is to look at the disparities on these boards,” he said. “Women, who make up 50 percent of the population nationally, and I think 32 percent on corporate boards; African-Americans, who make up 13.4 percent nationally and only make up 6.3 percent on boards; and Latinos, who are 18.1 percent of the population nationally but they only make up 2.0 (percent) on boards.”
Belt cited studies showing that corporations with diverse boards of directors tend to outperform those that don’t.
“The studies that I’ve read, that I’ve been reading, it really underscores the fact that diversity does well for businesses. The corporations that have diversity do well, they do better profit-wise,” he said.
Financial aid access
The Illinois Senate, on a 35-to-15 vote Wednesday, sent Pritzker a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive state-funded student financial aid to attend college.
House Bill 2691, known as the Retaining Illinois Students and Equity, or RISE Act, passed the House on April 11. It also would extend eligibility for the state’s Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, to certain transgender individuals who are disqualified from state or federal financial aid because they have not registered for the draft.
“Just because someone is undocumented doesn’t mean they aren’t members of our society. It doesn’t mean that they don’t contribute to our society,” Sen. Omar Aquino, a Chicago Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said during floor debate. “Undocumented families in Illinois are Illinois families. They are Illinois residents that pay taxes – taxes that actually, because they are undocumented, they are not able to receive the return on those taxes back to them.”
But the idea provoked strong opposition from Republicans, who argued that expanding the pool of students who are eligible for MAP grants by allowing noncitizens to receive them would crowd out legal citizens from getting them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the math is simple,” Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, said. “Each and every one of us have students in our districts who are relying on MAP funding. If we’re going to take some of that funding away from our citizens and give it to noncitizens, that means we’re depriving some of our citizens, some of our students, from being able to have that funding to help with their education. This is just absolutely, fundamentally wrong.”
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