Springfield capitol

SPRINGFIELD — The last month of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session produced a spate of legislative action, as representatives and senators got to work after their traditionally long 2020 session was drastically curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s how Hyde Park-Kenwood’s legislators, Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) and Reps. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) and Kam Buckner (D-26th), voted on major pieces of legislation.

Budget

Lawmakers worked into the early hours of Tuesday, June 1, to pass a $42.3 billion state budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year that Democrats say would fully fund K-12 education and pension obligations while also paying down a sizable portion of the state’s debt.

It passed along mostly partisan lines, with support from Peters, Tarver and Buckner. The job became easier with better-than-expected tax collections this year, as well as passage of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, which will provide about $8.1 billion that the state can spend over the next four fiscal years.

Lawmakers said they plan to use the money for one-time projects such as affordable housing development, public health improvements, violence prevention programs and infrastructure projects. Republicans, however, complained that the infrastructure spending was entirely directed by Democrats.

Highlights of the proposed budget include increasing spending in the evidence-based funding plan for K-12 public schools by $350 million, bringing the total to $9.2 billion. It also calls for investing about $7.5 billion in state general revenues on Medicaid, plus another $7.4 billion for other human services; $1.9 billion for higher education; another $1.9 billion for public safety; and $1.4 billion for general services.

Another $1 billion of the ARPA funds would be directed into the ongoing Rebuild Illinois capital improvements program to accelerate some of the projects slated for construction.

“Over the past year, I’ve fought for many institutional changes that help combat systemic racism that holds Black and Brown folks down. This budget ensures that there is equity in how Illinois spends its money and that everyone in our state, regardless of ZIP code, is given the opportunity to live their best life," Sen. Peters said in a statement.

“This is our first state budget following a global pandemic that nearly crippled the world’s economy, and the services and programs the budget funds will help shore up stability for the people in Illinois who are struggling the most.

“By diverting the money from former President Trump’s corporate tax giveaway to small businesses and workforce development programs in our local communities, we’re working toward winning real safety and justice for all and marching toward a future where no one is left behind and everyone is made whole.”

On Facebook, Rep. Buckner said, "My top priority was ensuring we passed a responsible budget that fully funds our schools and invests in job training and development to expand opportunities for all Illinoisans."

Redistricting and elections

The legislature also moved the date of the 2022 primary elections to June 28; early voting will start on May 19. The provision changing the dates — Illinois state primaries are typically in March — is set to expire at the start of 2023.

The sponsor, Rockford Rep. Maurice West (D-67th), characterized the six-month period between primaries and Election Day as "long and risky" and said the one-time change would function "just to see how it works." Election Day 2022 will also be a state holiday, with school closures.

A permanent vote-by-mail list will be created, with officials offering an application for permanent vote-by-mail status, including electronic vote-by-mail for Illinoisans with disabilities.

Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for the changes.

Lawmakers passed measures on May 28 to redraw state legislative and judicial district lines fewer than 24 hours after the bills implementing the maps were introduced.

Hyde Park-Kenwood stays split between two state House districts, though the line is more jagged than Woodlawn Avenue through southern Kenwood and Ellis Avenue through Hyde Park, and one state Senate district. Woodlawn, South Shore and Bronzeville are split between three state House districts. Sen. Mattie Hunter’s (3rd) district stretches further east into Woodlawn. Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for the remap.

Lawmakers also approved new maps for the Supreme Court districts outside of Cook County. The Illinois Constitution requires that those districts have “substantially equal” populations, but the district maps have not been redrawn since the early 1960s. Voters in those districts also elect judges for the appellate courts. Each of those districts also elects a justice for the Illinois Supreme Court.

Democrats currently have a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court. But last year, Justice Thomas Kilbride, a Democrat from the 3rd District covering north-central Illinois, lost his bid for retention, setting up an open race in 2022.

The proposed new map completely reconfigures that district so that it would cover most of western Illinois, from a point just north of St. Louis, northward to the Wisconsin border, taking in Springfield, Bloomington, Peoria, the Quad Cities and Rockford.

But when House Republicans tried to question the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tarver, he insisted that he did not draw the map and that he did not know what the basis was for configuring the district that way.

Criminal justice reform

New legislation passed that is a trailer bill to the SAFE-T Act, a major criminal justice reform backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed into law in February. That measure mandated body cameras and changed use-of-force guidelines for law enforcement, created a new police certification system, expanded detainee rights and ended the use of cash bail in Illinois.

Sponsored by South Side Sen. Elgie Sims (D-17th), the legislation, House Bill 3443, relaxes rules around body cameras, removes some use-of-force restriction language and extends deadlines for new training standards.

Peters and Buckner both voted for it, but Tarver voted against it, the only legislative Democrat to dissent.

He called the trailer legislation a “piss-poor bill,” and rejected the idea that it was a Black Caucus amendment because South Side Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27th), who negotiated most of the major provisions in the SAFE-T Act alongside Sims, did not present it to the entire Black Caucus before he and Sims introduced the legislation.

A provision in the SAFE-T Act prevented officers accused of misconduct or involved in a shooting, or who have used force which resulted in bodily harm, from using footage from their body camera or recordings from other officers when writing reports of the incident.

HB 3443 keeps that provision in place, but adds language that allows an officer, with a supervisor’s approval, to file a supplementary report for which they can access body camera footage.

Sen. Peters' Senate Bill 2122, which makes confessions by minors in custody inadmissible if they were obtained by “a law enforcement officer or juvenile officer (that) knowingly engages in deception,” passed both houses unanimously.

“When a kid is in a stuffy interrogation room being grilled by adults, they’re scared and are more likely to say whatever it is they think the officer wants to hear to get themselves out of that situation, regardless of the truth," Peters said in a statement. "Police officers too often exploit this situation in an effort to elicit false information and statements from minors in order to help them with a case. Real safety and justice can never be realized if we allow this practice to continue.

“Police officers should not be able to lie to kids for their own gain, period. It’s a disgusting practice, and I’m glad that my colleagues in the General Assembly agree."

Rep. Slaughter, who carried the bill in the House, pointed to the case of Terrill Swift, one of the Englewood Four, who was released in 2012 after serving 15 years in prison once it was determined his confession as a 17-year-old minor was coerced by Chicago police officers.

That confession had led to his conviction despite no evidence tying him to the crime committed, and the city paid Swift nearly $7 million in a settlement following his release. 

Sen. Peters’ SB 2129, for which Tarver and Buckner also voted, also passed, allowing a county state's attorney where a defendant was sentenced to file a motion to resentence that individual if their original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.” The new sentence cannot be greater than the one originally handed down by the court and is meant as a rehabilitative measure.

The reform is meant as a way to address historically punitive sentences against crimes and circumstances that may be considered for more lenient punishment today with advances in understanding around socioeconomic contributors to violence and crime.

“There are several factors that go in to determining a sentence for a crime, but in time, some or all of those factors could change. Giving state’s attorneys the ability to ask a court to reduce sentences will ensure that people aren’t locked up for longer than they should be,” Peters said in a statement.

“People and circumstances can change as time goes on, so it’s time for the law to reflect the possibility of that change and allow for resentencing if a judge determines it’s appropriate.”

Because of HB 1063, which Sen. Peters sponsored in the Senate and for which Tarver voted (Buckner had an excused absence), Illinois could become the 12th state to decriminalize the transmission of HIV, currently a Class 2 felony in the Prairie State.

The bill also would repeal existing laws allowing law enforcement or state’s attorneys to access a person’s HIV status. Under current criminal law, a person who transmits HIV to another person can be charged with “criminal transmission of HIV.” Current law prohibits the forced disclosure of a person’s HIV status but provides exceptions for law enforcement officials or state’s attorneys to subpoena or petition for the HIV status of criminal defendants.

“Laws that criminalize HIV are outdated, dangerous, discriminatory, and out of line with current science. This practice has no place in modern society. HIV is a medical condition and must be treated as such. Individuals living with it should not have to fear being punished simply because they are sick," Peters said in a statement.

“No other condition is treated as unfairly as HIV, so it’s time we remove the stigma surrounding it and allow folks who are living with it to get the treatment they need.”

Labor rights

The legislature passed, with Peters, Tarver and Buckner's support, a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a fundamental right of employees to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.

It would add a section to the Illinois Constitution’s Bill of Rights stating, “Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”

It would go on to say that no laws could be passed that diminish workers’ rights to organize, including any state law or local ordinance “that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.”

That is a reference to so-called “right-to-work” laws that began proliferating in the post-World War II era that prohibit any agreements requiring union membership as a condition of employment. Currently, 28 states have some form of right-to-work laws or constitutional amendments on the books.

Illinoisans must now approve the amendment during the November 2022 general election for it to take effect.

“Labor rights are intertwined with race, class, and gender struggles, and we must always fight to preserve them. Declaring a workers right to collective bargain as a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone who works in Illinois is a major step toward winning the real safety and justice in our communities that we’ve been fighting to secure for generations," Peters said of the amendment in a statement.

“The past year has seen some major wins in the fight against systemic oppression, but that fight is far from over, and we need to keep pushing for change that works best for everyone, no matter their ZIP code. I’m proud to have co-sponsored and supported this measure, and I look forward to continuing similar work as we move forward.”

SB 525 provides that a state employee’s eligibility to be a member of a collective bargaining unit be based on the duties that employee actually performs rather than the duties listed in a written job description. Aimed at rolling back some of former Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) actions regarding public sector unions, Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for it.

Education

The Senate but not the House, which had adjourned by the time of the upper chamber's June 1 vote, passed a vote to create a 21-member Chicago Board of Education, with elections by 2024. Peters voted for the measure. Ten members would initially be elected, then 11, including the president, would be elected in 2026. All would serve four-year terms.

The General Assembly reconvenes in the fall for its short “veto session.”

Sen. Peters' SB 654, dubbed the "right-to-play bill," passed with support from Tarver and Buckner and would give all public school kindergartners through 5th-graders at least 30 minutes of unstructured playtime each day.

That’s only half the amount of playtime that the original bill would have required as it passed out of the Senate. The original bill also would have applied to students from kindergarten through eighth grade, but the bill was narrowed as a concession to opponents that included groups representing teachers, principals and administrators.

“When I was growing up, unstructured playtime was a key part of my development, which is why I believe it should be a guaranteed right for all kids. Physical activity also helps keep children’s minds sharp, and the exercise they get helps keep them healthy," Peters said in a statement.

“Kids need time set aside where they have the chance to just be kids. School can be stressful for some, and this is a great way to help make the day a bit easier.

Rep. Buckner's SB 2338, which would give college athletes the ability to independently profit from their image or likeness, passed with "yes" votes from Peters and Tarver.

The latest development in a decades-old debate regarding policies overseen by the NCAA, the bill also gives college athletes the ability to obtain an agent or legal counsel. It would take effect July 1 or immediately upon the governor’s signature if it comes after that date. Buckner said the measure was personal to him as a former football player at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Buckner said he and U. of I. athletic director Josh Whitman have partnered on passing this policy change. The bill does not allow for salary payment for the college players, but rather allows college athletes to monetize their likeness, such as participating in autograph signings at local businesses or appearing in video games.

“This is really putting Illinois in the right position to be the tip of the spear and lead when it comes to making sure that our young people have autonomy over their name and likeness and image and they're no longer subject to not having the ability to control that,” Buckner said on the House floor on May 29.

An amendment to SB 817, which Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for, would prohibit all Illinois schools from making dress code requirements that prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity or hair texture. The legislation specifically cites braids, locks and twists as hairstyles protected by the statute.

And an amendment to HB 376, known as the “TEAACH Act,” would include Asian American history in the curriculum of all public elementary and high schools. Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for it.

Housing

Earlier this spring, both houses passed HB 2877, the COVID-19 Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program Act, which aims to provide $1.4 billion assistance to renters and landlords by distributing federal funds through the Illinois Housing Development Authority to support renters who have been unable to make rent payments as a result of pandemic-related economic hardship.

It also requires all eviction records filed due to financial hardship to be sealed through Aug. 1, 2022, and implements a temporary stay of certain foreclosure proceedings and filings. The eligibility and application process to receive support is set by the federal government, with additional eligibility set forth by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for the bill, which Gov. Pritzker signed into law on May 17.

HB 2621 is an omnibus aimed at creating additional affordable housing units in the state by creating monetary incentives including a COVID-19 Affordable Housing Grant program to provide funding to support affordable housing in areas “disproportionately impacted” by COVID-19. It passed both houses unanimously.

The program would supplement affordable housing developments which qualify for federal tax credits. Funds for the program, which are subject to appropriation, will be made available through federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act with statutory language to be repealed in April 2025.

The bill also aims to extend the Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit, which offers incentives to developers which donate money or real estate to affordable housing developments. The specific amount of funding to be made available under the programs is still being negotiated.

Health

SB 2137, which passed both houses unanimously, would require nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to adopt procedures to prevent social isolation among their residents, including making technology available for online visits with loved ones when in-person visits are not possible.

The bill provides that online visitation and other forms of social isolation prevention measures would be in addition to, not a substitute for, in-person visitation and that each patient’s individualized visitation plan should give priority to the resident’s own preference over the resident’s representative.

It also provides that long-term care facilities could apply for grants from the state’s civil monetary penalty fund, as well as other state and federal funds, to pay for assistive and supportive technology. Starting Jan. 1, 2023, facilities that fail to comply with the new rules could be subject to administrative penalties.

SB 967, which passed both houses unanimously, requires the Illinois Department of Human Services to update its maternal health programs for pregnant and postpartum individuals determined to be “high-risk” under new criteria, with these services being operated by registered nurses, licensed social workers and other appropriate staff approved by IDHS.

Illinois Department of Public Health policies would be updated as well with new guidance and requirements for hospitals that deliver babies. All hospitals that qualify under the statute must have written policies following IDPH guidelines on maternal and postpartum care, as well as the leading causes of maternal mortality.

The updated legislation was filed following April's Illinois Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Report, which looked at deaths during or after pregnancy from 2016 to 2017 in Illinois, which found that Black residents were nearly three times as likely to die within one year after the end of their pregnancy compared to their White peers.

HB 310, which passed with Peters, Buckner and Tarver’s support, would require all shelters that provide temporary housing assistance to women and youth to make available products such as sanitary napkins, tampons and panty liners.

A similar bill, HB 641, requires public universities and community colleges to make menstrual hygiene products available free of charge in restrooms of any buildings owned or leased by the higher education institutions. Peters, Tarver and Buckner voted for it.

Peters, Tarver and Buckner also voted for HB 156, which would require schools to provide free menstrual hygiene products in all bathrooms for 4th through 12th grades. Those products would be free to the students and be available during the regular school day.

Marijuana

As previously reported, Buckner voted for, and Tarver did not vote on, HB 1443, which would create two new marijuana dispensary lotteries offering 55 licenses each, as well as clearing up ongoing disputes over the fate of 75 marijuana dispensary licenses that have been held up for over a year.

On May 28, Peters voted for the bill in the Senate; Gov. Pritzker has said he would sign the legislation “so that we can begin the next phase creating a cannabis industry that reflects the diversity of all of our people.”

Ethics

SB 539, aiming to improve ethics standards for elected officials, passed on June 1 just hours after it was introduced, unanimously in the Senate and with support from Tarver and Buckner in the House.

It creates a uniform requirement for statements of economic interests, requiring all candidates to disclose all personal assets and debts totaling over $10,000, all sources of income over $7,500 per year, as well as any personal relationships with individuals who serve in government or work as lobbyists.

Each interest statement would also be required to be reviewed by a state ethics officer, and candidates would also be required to disclose all campaign donations over $500. The bill further expands limitations on fundraising efforts, preventing lawmakers from holding campaign fundraisers across the state on any day the General Assembly is in session, or on a day immediately preceding session.

The bill also prevents former lawmakers and officers of the executive branch from taking a lobbying job within six months of leaving their public position in what is typically referred to as a “revolving door.”

The bill would also prevent lawmakers from collecting a full paycheck if they do not see their full term to completion. Instead, they would be paid on a prorated basis.

The bill further allows the Office of the Legislative Inspector General to launch an investigation into violations of the state’s election laws without approval of the Executive Ethics Commission.

The bill implements uniform standards for lobbyists of any level of government to register with the secretary of state’s office, but would exempt lobbyists from the city of Chicago from needing to register, as the city has its own registration process.

Herald staff contributed from Chicago. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. 

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