‘Culture war’ legislation leads to anger, foolishness in Springfield

Perhaps the least controversial was House Bill 1591, which deletes some anti-miscegenation laws still on the books since 1915. Even so, nine Republicans voted against the bill.

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Illinois State Capitol, February 10, 2023, in Springfield, Illinois. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Illinois State Capitol, February 10, 2023, in Springfield, Illinois.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Illinois Senate debated and passed several bills last Thursday dealing with what the news media likes to call “culture war” issues.

Perhaps the least controversial (there was almost no debate) was House Bill 1591, which deletes some anti-miscegenation laws still on the books since 1915. Even so, nine Republicans voted against the bill.

A bill pushed by the American Civil Liberties Union to amend the state’s Children and Family Services Act, House Bill 1596, also attracted GOP ire. The bill is an attempt to address an auditor general’s report about how the Department of Children and Family Services was “failing to meet the needs of the growing number of LGBTQ+ youth under their care.” So, phrases like “he or she” was replaced with “minor” or “the child,” etc.

In language addressing what happens when mothers relinquish their children or neglect or abuse them, the word “mother” was replaced with the word “person,” although “mother” was left intact in a definition of the term “parent.”

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A couple of Republican women said they were insulted by the word change. “I earned the right to be called mother,” said Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, adding that she was “offended” the bill was brought to the floor shortly before Mother’s Day, even though most of the language changes were about people who aren’t exactly model parents. The opposition appeared to have an impact because a handful of Democrats took a walk and the bill passed 36-19.

Then came House Bill 2350, which changed some state insurance code language to make sure a small number of people receive Pap smears and prostate cancer screening. The way the current law mandates insurance coverage seems to exclude those who no longer identify with their birth gender. So, the bill changes some words in the statute to make sure nobody is left out of what can be life-saving coverage.

Things got a bit heated. Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, declared the Senate was “wasting our time” on the legislation while good Republican bills were “languishing” in the chamber’s Assignments Committee, which is where bills that aren’t voted on by certain deadlines are sent to die. She also called the bill “bizarre.”

“Biological males cannot get Pap smears! It’s not possible!” thundered Sen. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport.

Well, yeah. Nobody, including the bill sponsors, said they could.

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Chesney then went even further by spreading a rumor during debate that has been debunked about a kabillion times.

“This is why your kids are dressing up as furries and want kitty litter in the bathrooms!” Chesney declared about the legislation. The kitty litter thing is a completely fabricated far-right claim that some schools are being forced to put kitty litter in their restrooms to accommodate students. It’s utter nonsense.

Eventually, Sen. Rob Martwick, D-Chicago, had heard enough. “The idea that you would make a stand against simply ensuring that the law provides that human beings, human beings can get life-saving cancer screenings because you have some ideological opposition to the lifestyle that they chose is really nothing short of cruel,” Martwick said. The bill passed 37-17.

House Bill 2389 was called a bit later. It’s an initiative of Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias to prevent police from using the excuse of things like an air freshener or parking pass hanging from a driver’s rearview mirror as a pretext to pull drivers over.

Black and Brown drivers have complained for years that police single them out for enforcement of a law that few people even know exist. But you’d have thought the sponsoring Democrats were trying to enable horrific dangers the way the opposition reacted. Drivers with no front view at all could run down kids near schools if this bill passed, one warned.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, eventually rose to point out that the extreme scenarios outlined by the Republicans were all addressed in the state’s reckless driving statute. “This is a good bill,” Cunningham, a former Cook County Sheriff employee, said. The bill passed 41-11.

An anti-bullying bill, House Bill 3425, was debated near the end of a long day. The proposal would require school officials to notify parents of alleged bullying incidents involving their children within 24 hours after the officials learn of the allegations.

Sen. Seth Lewis, R-Bartlett, warned that the legislation could exacerbate the state’s growing difficulties with retaining and recruiting school administrators. Lewis wound up voting “No” along with four GOP colleagues. But several Republicans voted for it, and it passed 50-5.

It was quite a day.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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