Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday expanded eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine starting April 12 to all Illinois residents 16 and older — except those who live in Chicago.
Likewise, vaccination eligibility in the state currently extends to people under 65 with certain health conditions — except in the Chicago area. The rules in the Windy City are different. There, health care providers still are concentrating on getting essential workers and people 65-plus vaccinated because of limited vaccine supply.
Vaccine distribution is an area that Illinois public officials are handling right. Just because Chicago is at one phase of the distribution doesn’t mean the rest of the state should be held up.
It’s a lesson the state should consider in matters of legislation, as well. In Illinois, one-size legislation rarely fits all.
To people who live in Chicago, everything outside of the suburbs is “downstate,” even though Jo Daviess County is pretty much due west of Chicago. That’s indicative of the mind-set that state government sometimes falls into — focusing on Chicago with less attention to what impact law changes will have elsewhere in the state.
Consider the state’s minimum-wage law.
Illinois’ minimum wage rose to $11 per hour on Jan. 1, marking the latest in a series of mandated pay increases that will ultimately raise that figure to $15 on Jan. 1, 2025.
As Illinois beefs up its required hourly wage, both Iowa and Wisconsin have kept their rates at $7.25, mirroring the federal minimum. If those states don’t enact an increase in the next four years, the minimum wage in Iowa and Wisconsin would be less than half of Illinois’ rate when it reaches $15.
While $15 might be a going rate for entry-level hourly jobs in Chicago, that’s just not the case in Jo Daviess County.
Another case of legislation that doesn’t work the same in rural Illinois communities is the state’s criminal justice reform bill.
Pritzker signed a major overhaul of state law enforcement practices last month that eliminates the cash bail system, requires agencies to supply officers with body cameras and outlines strict use-of-force limitations for officers.
Jo Daviess County State’s Attorney Chris Allendorf said the changes to cash bail will significantly raise the burden to prove that someone should be detained pretrial. He said this could lead to a “revolving door” putting more criminals back on the street.
Jo Daviess County Sheriff Kevin Turner expressed concerns that the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and large unions were not given a voice as such reforms were hashed out. Law enforcement in small communities throughout the state are concerned about bearing the cost of the body cameras mandate.
That’s the kind of thing that happens when lawmakers are creating legislation to serve the nation’s third-largest city with far less thought to the nearly 10 million people who live in smaller cities, towns and rural areas throughout Illinois.
The concern has grown to the point that a group of “downstaters” is pushing for Congress to make Chicago the 51st state, allowing the rest of Illinois to govern itself without the influence of a major metropolitan city.
That would be a move too far.
But Illinois politicians — who happen to be seated smack in the middle of the state in Springfield — must strive to balance the interests of the entire state, not just Chicago.