Illinois legislators advanced pieces of the Black Caucus’ agenda — including a cap on payday loan rates and a permanent extension of vote-by-mail introduced last spring — during a busy series of meetings held before new members are sworn in Wednesday.
After a long debate late Monday night — and a caucus break — the House passed a piece of the Black Caucus agenda focused on economic access, equity and opportunity. The legislation, SB1608, focuses on increasing diversity in the state’s procurement process and passed through the chamber 70 to 39 with one voting present and eight not voting.
Republicans pushed back on the legislation, expressing concerns that the implementation of the bill would turn the state’s contracting process into a “disaster,” as Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, put it.
Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, spoke on behalf of that bill — as well as others associated with the economic access piece of the Black Caucus’ agenda — on the floor of the Bank of Springfield Center Monday night and Tuesday.
Though the measure passed the House, and could come before the Senate late Tuesday, Harper said the bill might be changed during the 102nd General Assembly, which is sworn in Wednesday, since the measures in the bill don’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2022.
Expanding housing access, equity in cannabis industry
During the Tuesday session, Harper presented three more bills and amendments that are associated with the economic access pillar. That includes two amendments to SB1480, which aims to end wage disparities for black women, men and people with criminal records; two amendments to SB1980, which focuses on increasing housing access to those with criminal records; and three amendments to SB1792, which focuses on equity in the cannabis industry and has an anti-predatory lending measure that caps the allowable annual percentage rate for payday loans, small consumer loans and title-secured loans at 36%.
A permanent extension of mail voting expansions adopted last spring due to the pandemic passed the House’s Executive Committee Tuesday.
Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, the sponsor of the bill, said she and other members of the House Women’s Caucus felt that some of the measures put in place in May, “that were only designed for the November 2020 election, worked very well and were very popular and so this bill will just allow some of those provisions to continue.”
The bill allows local election officials to set up ballot drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots and curbside voting “if the election authorities so choose,” according to the language of the bill.
It would not, however, send a vote-by-mail application to voters who have participated in recent elections — a departure from a measure approved for last year’s election.
“This will be permanent because our election authorities who chose to use it found it was successful,” Stuart said.
Republican members of the committee had concerns about the security of these measures.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion throughout the country about election integrity and I think it’s a real opportunity for us all to work together on something that’s obviously very important,” said Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, adding that he had a concern over the “vagueness of the security requirements on ballot boxes.”
Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, noted that other states have given more specific guidelines on the drop boxes and said, “I think the legislature needs to give much more clarification as to how these boxes should be built.”
The bill passed in the committee along party lines, with eight votes in favor and five opposed. A similar bill passed the Senate Tuesday night.
Ban on school restraints debated
A proposed ban in Illinois schools of using seclusion and face-down restraints was debated in the House’s Mental Health Committee.
That ban was inspired by a 2019 Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation, “The Quiet Rooms,” which discovered extensive misuse of both practices and inadequate reporting of their use.
“This bill is of utter importance to me because this is something I experienced as a child myself with the isolation, time outs and restraint. And I don’t want any child ever to feel the way I did,” said Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Buffalo Grove, the bill’s chief co-sponsor in the House and a former special education teacher.
The bill was opposed by Republicans on the committee, including Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville.
“This is a last resort. Nobody wants to do this,” he said of physically restraining students. “But we don’t have the resources that we have in Cook County. We don’t have resources below Springfield. There’s no other resources to get help to these kids who need it the most,” he said.
Tuesday evening the bill was debated in the Senate by its co-sponsor, Sen. Ann Gillespie. She clarified that the bill only bans the use of prone restraint, which she calls “the most dangerous of all restraints.” The bill passed the Senate unanimously.