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Pritzker signs bills aimed at economic access, equity in employment, contracts, cannabis industry: ‘Hope is in the air’

The governor signed four bills that were part of the Black Caucus’ legislative agenda aimed at addressing economic equity in the state. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state Rep. Sonya Harper hold up signed legislation related to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda addressing economic access, equity and opportunity that Pritzker signed Tuesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state Rep. Sonya Harper hold up signed legislation related to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda addressing economic access, equity and opportunity that Pritzker signed Tuesday.
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a package of bills on Tuesday aimed at eliminating some of the economic barriers that have “held Black and Brown Illinoisans back” — including trying to address the state’s flawed cannabis licensing system, capping payday loan rates and seeking to increase diversity in the state’s contracting process.

The four bills signed Tuesday were crafted and shepherded through the General Assembly by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in January. Together, they are part of the economic ‘pillar’ of legislators’ wide-ranging attempts to address racial inequities and systemic injustices in Illinois.

“We still have much more work to do, but hope is in the air today, and I hope that you all feel it too,” Pritzker said ahead of signing the legislation at the Union Baptist Church Gymnasium in Springfield.

“Together these four bills mark significant progress in our efforts to close the racial gaps and eliminate barriers that have for too long unfairly held Black and Brown Illinoisans back,” the governor said. “While there is more work to do, we are a better state for what’s in this legislation today.”

One bill amends the Farmer Equity Act and creates a cannabis equity commission to ensure the goals the state set as part of its legalization of cannabis are met. Critics have complained that despite earlier promises, the developing recreational marijuana industry remains white-dominated. That bill also caps at 36% the annual percentage rate for payday loans, small consumer loans and title-secured loans under the Predatory Loan Prevention Act.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Union Baptist Church Gymnasium in Springfield on Tuesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Union Baptist Church Gymnasium in Springfield on Tuesday.
Andrew Sullender/Chicago Sun-Times

It also requires the Department of Agriculture to study the disparities associated with farm ownership and farm operations in the state.

Another bill increases the state’s goal for contracts awarded to businesses owned by minorities, women or people with disabilities from 20% to 30% and mandates the state’s Department of Central Management Services establish “committed diversity aspirational goals for state contracts” and “concerted outreach efforts to businesses owned by minorities, women, and persons with disabilities.”

The two other pieces of legislation curb the use of conviction records in housing and employment decisions. They allow someone with a felony conviction to live in federally assisted housing, extend protections in the Illinois Human Rights Act to residents with a conviction record and prohibits employers in the state from disqualifying them unless that record is “substantially related to the job,” according to a news release on the signing.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said the “issue of inequity has grown over the decades” but, with Tuesday’s bill signings, the state is “now able to talk about solutions.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks at Chicago State University in February.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks at Chicago State University in February.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file.

“In America, systemic racism has been infused into our economy from the very beginning and, too often, the amount of money you make, the apartment or house you can afford, whether or not your business stays open depends on your race,” Stratton said. “[These bills are] just the beginning. The fight for economic justice continues, and there is much work to do.”

The Black Caucus’ agenda was comprised of four pillars including criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability; education and workforce development; economic access, equity and opportunity; and health care and human services.

After hearings in the fall and meetings with advocacy groups, the caucus drafted and introduced omnibus legislation ahead of their January lame-duck session, and bills related to three of the four pillars passed through the General Assembly. Health care was the one pillar that saw no legislative action during the lame duck session.

The other measures went to the governor in early February.

Republicans had expressed concerns that the implementation of the legislation would turn the state’s contracting process into a “disaster,” as Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, put it.

Others worried that the process for creating the legislation, and getting it through the General Assembly, had been rushed.

State Rep. Carol Ammons addressed those concerns on Tuesday, saying the Black Caucus “put our noses down, we did not rush these bills through.”

And she argued the remedies were long overdue, using the payday loan legislation as an example, she said “300% interest on anything is unreasonable and unacceptable.”

“For people who will say ‘oh, this is unfair, it’s unworkable, we can’t make it happen’ that is false, and if there were remedies that they had, they could have brought them to the table,” the Urbana Democrat said.

“We have done what is necessary for this entire state, and every single person — no matter what your station in life — who may have to walk into a title loan place, or any other loan cashing facility, will see and feel the remedy of this package and the governor’s signature.”