Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and fellow Democrats who lead the General Assembly have pledged to push legislation to penalize Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
A House Democrat last week introduced a plan to divest from Russian debt, welcome Ukrainian refugees to Illinois and develop a method for detecting Russian money laundering in local real estate.
“This is not a situation where we can sit back and ignore what's happening,” Chicago Democratic Rep. Lindsey LaPointe said of Russian President Vladimir Putin's Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor. “It is now time for us to do what we can here in Illinois.”
Pritzker called on state employee pension systems on Feb. 28 to review their portfolios for divestment possibilities.
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On Friday, he issued a joint statement with Senate President Don Harmon, of Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside, welcoming action from the General Assembly.
“As Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine escalates, it threatens everyone around the world. We are unified in our belief that Putin must be stopped,” the statement said. “Working together, our offices will advance legislation to remove any Russian companies from Illinois’ pension assets and prohibit contracting with any companies based in Russia.”
The leaders also promised help with refugees, said they hope negotiations can resolve the conflict, and said that “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 pension account, the Teachers Retirement System, representing about 225,000 working and retired instructors, asked its 150 or so asset managers to examine investments for ties to Russia, spokesman Dave Urbanek said. It can be a complex process, particularly when investments are part of co-mingled funds, Urbanek said.
LaPointe's proposal would require divestment “from Russian stocks and sovereign debt,” along with those of Russian ally Belarus. It names the Teachers' Retirement System and Illinois State Board of Investment and urges public systems not controlled by the state, such as the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, to do the same. Many states and other government bodies have made similar moves to stop interaction with Russia.
The legislation would also give the Illinois Department of Human Services authority to create a Ukrainian Refugee Resettlement Program that would provide health care, mental health services and English-language assistance to Ukrainians granted temporary protected or refugee status. The United Nations reports 3.5 million people have left Ukrainesince the Feb. 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 is largely federal dollars. LaPointe said her bill has no additional funding. House Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer of Dixon last month introduced a plan that would add $20 million in state money to expand the program for those fleeing Ukraine.
Finally, LaPointe's plan would create a “Money Laundering in Real Estate Task Force” that would assess the likelihood that residential, industrial and commercial property sectors across the state to draw illicit Russian money, including luxury real estate in Chicago.
LaPointe's bill is HB1293.