Illinois House members pass hundreds of bills onto the Senate
It was a very busy week at the Illinois statehouse last week.
The House of Representatives raced to beat a deadline Friday to move substantive bills that originated in that chamber over to the Senate. The week featured long nights, short debates that at times got testy and the passage of hundreds of bills. Here are some of them:
Full day kingergarten
State Rep. Mary Beth Canty (D-Arlington Heights) passed a measure implementing full day kindergarten in schools statewide in time for the 2027-28 school year.
The bill also creates the “Full-Day Kindergarten Task Force,” which will study how to implement this statewide in a way beneficial to all districts from small, one building rural schools to large urban districts.
The initial report will be due to the legislature and governor’s office by April 2024, with the final report by November 2024.
“I think we can recognize that children are our most important resource in Illinois,” said Canty on the House floor. “As we look to move forward with our Pre-K program and the governor’s Smart Start program, I hope that we can recognize that Kindergarten is a pivotal piece of a child’s learning journey.”
The debate became a bit of a flashpoint between members on spending priorities. Some Republicans, like State Rep. Dan Swanson (R-Galesburg), worry about staffing and cost. In the current system, he says there could be two groups of students each in a morning and afternoon program – which requires only two teachers.But he worries about what would happen if all four of those groups require a full day of class.
“We must employ two more teachers and may have to build additional space, potentially have more facility requirements than what we have the capabilities to do,” he said, noting that could lead to a local property tax referendum to fund building additions.
State Rep. Cyril Nichols (D-Chicago) didn’t appreciate that.
“Everybody listen up!” Nichols said as admonished members while waiting for them to bring down side conversations on the floor. “We’ve all got children in this assembly, what are we talking about?”
“We can find money for all sorts of things… you want to solve some problems? Stop thinking crime is this thing that manifests out of thin air. It’s what we do right now to help that child. Start paying attention. Stop talking about other things that really don’t matter and pay attention.”
Districts can ask for an extension if they won’t be ready by 2027, but they have to meet at least one of the following parameters: they’re receiving 70 percent or less of the funding they should be based on the state’s evidence-based funding model, or the task force determines they’re one of the districts in most need of capital funding to make a full day program work.
The task force can also determine if there’s an unlisted criterion that might prevent a district from implementing this on time.
Blocking book bans
The House passed an initiative spearheaded by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias to deter public libraries from banning books.
The bill from State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Downers Grove) requires public and school libraries to adhere to a set of standards if they want to continue receiving state grant funding. They must first adhere to the Library Bill of Rights from the American Library Association, which says books shouldn’t be removed from the shelves for political or personal disagreements. Essentially they need to show they’re not banning books.
They must also comply with the official stance of the State Library, which opposes book bans.
“The fact that this is even up for discussion in America in the 21st century is disgusting,” Stava-Murray said. “All too often we see the books targeted by these hate groups and radical fringe parents are books having to deal with LGBTQ+ plus identities, or Black and brown authors.”
The measure passed 69-39 on a largely party-line vote. At least one GOP concern revolved around local control – State Rep. Martin McLaughlin (R-Barrington) says it should be up to local library boards to decide what to offer their communities, not state government.
“To me this is a complete go around, an end around, on the local control and authority of library boards,” McLaughlin said. “I think it’s a very blatant attempt to strong arm our local communities and how they want to direct their libraries to operate and function.”
“Local control has long been a dog whistle for allowing statewide or nationwide racist or bigoted policies to persist,” Stava-Murray shot back, prompting the Republican side of the aisle to “boo” loudly and others in the chamber to groan or shift uncomfortably.“You’re booing, and only one side is booing… I wonder why,” she said. “Because maybe there is some truth to it.”
Republican members also said they were less concerned about the materials presented in libraries and more about where they’re placed and whether kids have access to material that’s not age appropriate.
Gender neutral, multi occupancy bathrooms
State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) sponsored a measure to set parameters for businesses if they want to offer all-gender, multi-stall public restrooms. The bill does not require that businesses offer them. This affects only those who choose to do so.
State law currently doesn’t allow for multi-occupancy gender neutral restrooms. Many businesses that have them now use single occupancy spaces.
“This bill is a victory for all who support the freedom of businesses to make their own decisions about how to conduct their day-to-day operations,” Stuart said through a news release from LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Illinois.
Stuart abruptly canceled a scheduled town hall style meeting in her district in February due to an influx of violent threats from people who she said misunderstood the measure’s intent.
“This bill is about removing a prohibition, not about imposing requirements, beyond those which are necessary to set basic standards for those establishments that may choose to make the change,” Stuart said.
It wasn’t a sure thing. It passed with 60 votes – the minimum number required to pass legislation through the House before June 1. Several members of the “Mod Caucus,” a coalition of more than 20 moderate House Democrats, did not vote on the measure at all. Stuart, a member of that caucus herself, could not explain why that happened.
A similar measure passed the House last session with a similar roll call, but it didn’t pass the Senate.
A measure allowing people to sue for federal anti-discrimination violations in state court unanimously passed the House of Representatives.
It is in response to a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Cumings vs. Premier Rehab, which ruled that people who are discriminated against could not receive monetary awards when suing for emotional distress.
The proposal by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) would allow these lawsuits in state court and would set a minimum 4 thousand dollar penalty for people who successfully sue.
Charles Petrof, a senior attorney with Access Living, said in the committee hearing that the decision prevents enforcement of various civil rights acts.
Access Living is a Chicago-based disabilities services center that supports the bill.
“Our bill is asking the state of Illinois to now adopt a law that essentially says if a violation of these federal rights is proven, Illinois’ statute says you do have a right to collect emotional distress damages,” Petrof said. “Which gives you the right to stay in court and enforce the rights that are written into law
This measure would apply to the Civil Rights Act, Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Styrofoam to-go containers ban
A proposal to end the use of polystyrene foam - more commonly known as styrofoam - takeout food containers passed by a 67-43 vote.
Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview), the bill sponsor, said these styrofoam containers are often not recycled and end up in landfills.
She said they also get thrown into Lake Michigan, where they can pose a threat to wildlife and drinking water.
“We have to think of this not only as a garbage problem, but also as a public health problem,” Gong-Gershowitz said.
Republican Representative Dave Severin from southern Illinois said the measure would hurt companies that produce styrofoam in the state, and is unnecessary because styrofoam is recyclable.
Gong-Gershowitz said these containers become contaminated by food and can’t be recycled.
“There’s some disagreement as to whether or not it is truly recyclable,” Gong-Gershowitz said.
If passed in the Senate, the ban would go into effect January 1, 2024, with some exceptions for small businesses, food pantries and soup kitchens.
They would have until 2025.
Gender inclusive language
The House also passed two measures which would add gender neutral language to Illinois laws.
One of the proposals by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) would replace gendered language in a law requiring insurance companies to offer pap smear and prostate exam coverage.
The law, which was passed last year, included references to men and women. Cassidy said her proposal to remove these gendered references would make coverage for the services available for everyone.
“It ensures that nobody is excluded from access to preventative care,” Cassidy said.
The bill would go into effect January 1, 2025
Another measure by Democratic Representative Lakeisha Collins would change references to boys and girls in Illinois statutes – to gender neutral language such as children.
It would go into effect 60 days after becoming law.
Splitting pregnancy costs
State Representative Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, is looking to create parity in paying for pregnancies. Her measure would require the non-pregnant parent to pay at least 50 percent of pregnancy-related expenses. A court would also be able to mandate the other parent to pay more than that.
Her legislation models a Utah state law that took effect last May, which requires biological fathers to pay 50 percent of a pregnant person’s out-of-pocket medical costs.
Croke said this type of legislation is needed. She said she’s typically seen expenses fall disproportionately onto the pregnant person. And with high maternal mortality rates in the U.S, she says this is especially concerning.
“I worry that a pregnant person may not go seek the health care that they desperately need when something arises in their pregnancy, because they are scared of what that medical bill is going to look like,” Croke said.
The measure would apply only to medical costs incurred during the pregnancy – anything from ultrasound screenings and blood tests, to emergency surgeries and delivery. Abortion care would also fall under this.
“Illinois being such a strong pro-choice state, we also have to make sure that we're focusing on pregnant people, and the ones who decide to carry their children to term,” Croke said. “When you decide to be pro-choice, you also have to be a pro-kid and pro-mom.”
The non-pregnant parent may not be required to pay if the paternity is in dispute, according to the measure.
It now heads to the Senate.