Political priorities: A review of key bills in the current Illinois legislative session

By Noah Broder
Medill Reports

With a progressive legislature and Democrat J.B. Pritzker as governor, a law raising the minimum wage to $15 swiftly passed in Illinois. Other proposals such as raising the age for purchasing cigarettes to 21 and the legalization of recreational marijuana could take hold for Illinois residents in the near future.

While the general assembly often hears and votes on hundreds of bills in the state house and the senate, only a few new high-profile laws affect the lives of most everyday residents.

Gov. Pritzker ran on a platform that considered issues ranging from legalizing marijuana to raising the minimum wage to criminal justice reform. While Pritzker makes these promises, it is the work of the members of the state house and senate to turn the promises into proposals and concrete laws.

With a state-government trifecta of democratic control in Springfield, Pritzker’s agenda should be able to push forward without the levels of gridlock that often manifest on the national level. Some policies in Illinois will receive near unanimous support, and others will require compromise and discussion before they come to pass.

New leadership has expressed hope for meaningful legislation and effective relationships at all levels of government.

With the start of a new session, Senate President John  Cullerton (D-6) sees an opportunity to re-establish stability in Illinois and build for the future,” said John Patterson, Cullerton’s director of communications. “By working together with Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois House, the Senate President sees this session as a unique opportunity to make Illinois better.”

The 101st Illinois General Assembly session, which opened in January and runs through May, is a chance for state lawmakers to propose different bills and legislation that they hope to pass for the state.

Since it is relatively early in the session, most bills from this general assembly are still working their way through the process, and many have yet to reach the governor for final approval. Still, some are moving rapidly and look poised to become law in the near future.

As the legislative session continues into the spring, let’s take a look at some key bills that are processing in the state legislature, and how soon these bills should be expected on the governor’s desk. We also want to look at how these bills will affect residents, and how likely they are to pass.

SB0001- Minimum Wage Law

This bill, introduced on the first day of this legislative session on January 9, moved relatively quickly through the senate and house. Pritzker signed it into law on February 19 as public act 101-0001.

With more than 30 sponsors across the two houses, this bill gained traction from the start as it moved through the legislative process.

The bill simply enacts changes to the minimum wage law and sets a path for annual increases to wages until 2025 when the minimum wage will be $15 an hour. Additionally, the bill lays out the authority for the Department of Labor to audit companies and fine them $100 per employee if proper records are not kept.

State Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford (D-4) was the first to propose the bill.

HB0003 – Hospital Report Cards

This bill is one in a series of bills proposed early in the legislative session by State Rep. Mary E. Flowers (D-31). This series of bills introduced by the representative from Chicago is part of an effort to reform the healthcare system by implementing different policy changes.

HB0003 requires that hospitals keep detailed records about infant mortality, maternal mortality and other birth-related instances. The bill requires reporting about the “racial and ethnic information of the infants’ mothers, along with the disparity of occurrences across different racial and ethnic groups.”

HB2074, HB2086 – New Holidays

These two bills work to amend the state calendar. HB2074, proposed by Rep. Tim Butler (R-87), calls for creating Illinois Constitution Day to celebrate when the state ratified its first constitution. This bill has no co-sponsors or amendments so far but creates a change without much trouble.

HB2086, proposed by Rep. Terri Bryant (R-115) also amends the State Commemorative Dates Act to declare April of each year as healthy pet month across the state.

HB0345 – Raising the Age for Tobacco Purchases to 21

This bill brings the national issue of teenage nicotine use to Illinois. HR0345 calls for a definition of what an electronic cigarette is and calls to raise the minimum age to buy and possess tobacco from 18 to 21.  This bill passed both houses and is awaiting governor approval. The bill’s author is Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (D-78).

“It’s time for the state to step up and protect our children from this known danger,” Cullerton said.

HB 1559, HB 0246 – New aspects of school curriculum

Both these bills call for amendments to school curriculum around the state to help teach about valuable topics and skills for our times. HB1559 calls for adding classes in “media literacy” a requirement for high school students. Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24) authored the bill.

HB0246 mandates that new textbooks purchased for schools need to be non-discriminatory and that in public schools teaching about the history of the United States “shall include a study of the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State.”  Hernandez and Rep. Anna Moeller (D-43) are both co-sponsors.

HB 0834 – Amends equal pay act

Moeller also authored a bill to amend the equal pay act and prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of past salary and wages. This bill has acquired nearly 50 sponsors and puts more power into the job applicant’s hands.

HB 0902- Legalize marijuana

This bill is certainly one that Pritzker would love to see on his desk. He ran on a promise of legalizing marijuana, and this bill works to accomplish that. This is not the only marijuana bill on the docket, but it allows for the widest scope of legalization.

A spokesman for the Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-22). said that marijuana legislation can come in different forms but it can sometimes be difficult to gauge support.

“The governor is supportive of the basic idea of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana with a whole string of appropriate safeguards,” said Steve Brown, press secretary for the speaker of the house. “I think there are still questions of whether or not there is a majority support in the house and senate.”

So What’s Next?

These bills represent just a small portion of the legislation that is discussed and voted on every day in the capitol building. Most of these bills are ready for a third reading, meaning a vote should be forthcoming.

While most Illinois residents, and frankly most Americans, don’t closely follow the everyday activities of their state governments, it is important to know how bills you care about are progressing.

Beyond simply understanding the wording of a bill or how it will be enforced, it is also important to note who is proposing the legislation and what they may hope to gain if it is passed.

Some bills are simply symbolic with no hope of being passed, and others could be deceptively simple but contain nefarious language to the unscrupulous eye. Whatever the purpose of the bill and however likely it is to become law, it remains important to understand how legislation moves through the level of government until it reaches the governor’s desk – and what happens when it gets there.

Following state government and understanding the process of passing a bill can be complicated. Fortunately, social media and other tools can help people understand which bills are scheduled for hearings or votes and where they stand in the legislative process. Once people understand what’s in a bill and who’s in favor of it, they can best decide whom to support when election season arrives.

Photo at top: Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Noah Broder/Medill),/div>