The Illinois Democrats’ plan aims to shed Russian debt
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and other Democrats who chair the General Assembly have pledged to push legislation to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
A House Democrat last week unveiled a plan to shed Russian debt, welcome Ukrainian refugees to Illinois and develop a method of detecting Russian money laundering in local properties.
“This is not a situation where we can sit back and ignore what’s happening,” Chicago Democratic Assemblyman Lindsey LaPointe said of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of his neighbor. “Now is the time for us to do what we can here in Illinois.”
Pritzker on February 28 asked state pension systems to review their portfolios for divestment opportunities.
On Friday, he issued a joint statement with Senate President Don Harmon, of Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside, welcoming the actions of the General Assembly.
“Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is escalating and threatening everyone around the world. We are united in our belief that Putin must be stopped,” the statement said. “Working together, our offices will advance legislation to remove all Russian companies from Illinois pension funds and to ban contracts with Russia-based companies.”
Leaders also pledged aid to refugees, said they hoped negotiations could resolve the conflict and said “Illinois must stand strong for democracy and support the brave men and women of Ukraine.”
In response to Pritzker’s Feb. 28 letter, the state’s largest retirement account, the Teachers Retirement System, which represents about 225,000 active and retired teachers, asked its roughly 150 wealth managers to screen investments for links to Russia, spokesman Dave Urbanek said. This can be a complex process, especially when investments are part of commingled funds, Urbanek said.
LaPointe’s proposal would require a divestiture “from Russian stocks and sovereign debt” along with that of Russia’s ally Belarus. It names the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment, and calls on public systems not controlled by the state, such as the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, to do the same. Many states and other government agencies have taken similar steps to stop interacting with Russia.
The legislation would also give the Illinois Department of Human Services authority to create a Ukrainian refugee resettlement program that would provide medical care, mental health services and English-language support to Ukrainian refugees who have been granted temporary protective or refugee status. The United Nations reports that 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the February 24 invasion.
The Illinois Refugee Resettlement Program, which began in 1975, has helped more than 129,000 refugees from about 86 countries start new lives here, state records show. Its budget consists largely of federal dollars. LaPointe said her bill had no additional funding. Republican Deputy Speaker of the House Tom Demmer von Dixon unveiled a plan last month that would add $20 million in state funds to expand the program for those fleeing Ukraine.
Eventually, LaPointe’s plan would create a “Money Laundering in Real Estate Task Force” that would assess the likelihood of residential, industrial, and commercial real estate sectors across the state attracting illicit Russian money, including luxury real estate in Chicago.
LaPointe’s calculation is HB1293.