March madness in the General Assembly: Hundreds of bills pass House, Senate
The Illinois General Assembly, facing upcoming deadlines to advance bills to the next chamber, held several lengthy floor debates this week resulting in hundreds of bills passed in the House and Senate.
As of Friday evening, 395 bills had passed over a four-day stretch collectively in both chambers. The majority of the bills - 327 - were from the House while the Senate, which had not passed any bills this week until Thursday, passed 68.
Spending almost 10 hours in debate, House members considered bills until about 11 p.m. Thursday before adjourning. The Senate concluded its floor actions for the day just before 5 p.m. following more than three hours of debate.
Both chambers returned on Friday with the Senate holding debate for more than two hours before adjourning until Tuesday. The House immediately went into recess after Republicans caucused following the pledge, before later resuming business.
Friday was the deadline for the House to pass bills on to the Senate. The Senate has until March 31 to advance bills to the House.
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All gender bathrooms
The Illinois House narrowly passed a bill Thursday that would allow businesses, universities and other building owners to designate multi-occupancy all-gender bathrooms if they choose to do so.
The bill passed on a vote of 60-40, the bare minimum number of “yes” votes needed for passage in the 118-member House, after the presiding officer held the roll open for several seconds waiting for the 60th vote to be recorded.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, who sponsored the bill, said the language of House Bill 1286 is identical to an earlier bill that passed 63-43 in the House in 2021 but was never taken up in the Senate.
Illinois law already allows for single-occupancy bathrooms to be designated for all genders, but Stuart’s bill would allow an all-gender designation for bathrooms that accommodate two or more people.
The bill sets out standards that all-gender bathrooms would have to meet, such as “inclusive signage” that does not indicate any specific gender; stall dividers with functioning locks controlled by the user; and partitions for each urinal, if urinals are present.
In addition, if such bathrooms are part of a newly constructed building or a building undergoing major renovation, they would have to comply with requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Accessibility Code. Each toilet stall would have to include a small trash receptacle, and it would have to have at least one vending machine for menstruation supplies and one baby diaper changing station.
The bill also provides that any multi-occupancy restroom could be converted to an all-gender restroom. But if another single-gender multi-occupancy restroom is located adjacent to or near the all-gender restroom, both would have to be designated as all-gender facilities.
The bill passed out of the House Human Services Committee on Feb. 22 on a 6-3 vote after only brief discussion. But just a few days later, Stuart said she was forced to cancel a planned constituent coffee event in Collinsville, “due to violent threats and malicious information being spread by special interest groups about bathroom privacy and safety legislation.”
“Yeah, there was some, I think, deliberately incendiary information being touted, real falsities about what was in the bill that was leading to, you know, frankly, threats and things that I didn't want to expose my staff and the public to,” Stuart said during an interview Thursday. “So we chose to cancel a public event.”
She stressed that the bill does not mandate that any bathroom be designated for all genders, but only allows building owners to do so if they choose.
State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, promised amendments to her House Bill 2396 after it passed out of the Child Care Access and Early Childhood House committee earlier this month. With those amendments, the bill passed on Thursday in a 87-23 tally.
The original version would have required all school boards to establish a full-day kindergarten program in their districts starting next school year, but the amended bill moved the deadline to the 2027-2028 school year.
The majority, approximately 80%, of school districts already offer full-day kindergarten. Those that do not as of Oct. 1, 2022, can apply for a two-year extension beyond the deadline if they lack the proper funding as set by the state Evidence-Based Funding formula. The formula is used to determine public school funding in Illinois.
While some House Republicans indicated the amendments were sufficient, state Rep. Dan Swanson, R-Alpha, remained in opposition. He was the sole 'no' vote when the earlier version passed committee.
"If we grow to full-day school and we have more groups of students full-day, we must deploy more teachers and may have to build additional space," he said, adding that this may require school districts to place referendums on the ballot so it can afford full-day kindergarten.
Canty said the possibility remains that the legislature may need to "clean some of this up" in the future when it comes to her bill. Fellow Democrat Reps. Sue Scherer of Decatur and Cyril Nichols of Chicago contended the governor's push for universal preschool made the bill all the more necessary.
Nichols said the expenses tied to the initiative when compared to other state expenditures, should not be the reason to deny the bill. He argued the investment in kindergarteners will pay dividends in the future.
"I'm sitting in an appropriations committee talking about hundreds of millions of dollars going to colleges," he said. "Well, how are we going to get there?"
A bill with the backing of Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias passed 69-39 on Wednesday along party lines. House Bill 2789 from state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, prohibits public libraries from banning books and requires the libraries to create written policies against the practice in order to qualify for state grants.
Stava-Murray said during the debate that her bill should not have to be a policy, but, was necessary because of discrimination against LGBTQ+ and Black and brown authors.
“You have the right to live your life according to your own beliefs,” she said. “But, in this country and in this state, you have no right to force your beliefs down other’s throats by dictating what ideas they may or may not be exposed to.”
Republicans said the bill was an overstep over the local control of library boards. State Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Heights, contended that it was Illinois Democrats that had politicized the issue.
“I think it’s a very blatant attempt to strong-arm our local committees and how they want to direct their libraries to operate and function,” he said during the debate. “I don’t understand why we have local elections anymore if a bill like this passes.”
Temporary visitor's driver's license
Another bill backed by the SOS passed 67-35 in the House on Thursday evening.
House Bill 3882 would end the issuing of temporary visitor driver’s licenses and instead replace them with standard driver's licenses. TVDLs, a program offered through the SOS office since 2013, have a purple strip to indicate the temporary status and are used solely for driving purposes.
Bill sponsor and state Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, clarified in floor debate that the licenses would not be used for federal identification purposes or to secure a Firearm Owner Identification Card.
The need for the bill, Hernandez and fellow members of the House Latinx Caucus said, was to stop discrimination experienced by TVDL holders.
“Some individuals have not even been able to buy simple things as alcohol, even if they are of age, just because they see the TVDL and don’t want to sell alcohol to undocumented individuals,” she said, adding that it happened to a family member on her legislative staff.
Republicans voted against the measure over concerns it would hide an individual’s “undocumented” status. State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, urged changes to the immigration system at the federal level to make the need TVDLs unnecessary.
“I think the reality is we’re trying to turn undocumented individuals into documented individuals,” he said, one of several GOP lawmakers rising in opposition.
Gen Z legislation
Two of the youngest members in state legislature history had their first bills pass in the Illinois House this week.
State Reps. Brad Fritts and Nabeela Syd, both 23 years old, had bills move to the Senate. House Bill 2582 from Fritts, R-Dixon, passed unanimously on Tuesday and removes a duplicated testing requirement for motorcyclists under the age of 18.
Syed, D-Palatine, received bipartisan support for House Bill 3643 in a 93-14 Wednesday vote. The bill establishes that students 17 years or older will have their individualized education program plans tailored to promote voter registration. IEP plans are for students ages 3 to 21 who have been diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays, according to the state board of education.
Some House Republicans expressed concern about involving educators in voter registration. The majority, including state Rep. Mike Coffey, R-Springfield, did support the bill.
“This bill says you value the voice of your young constituents with disabilities,” Syed said.
First state nut, bean
In its nearly 205-year history, Illinois has never had a state nut. Following a near unanimous vote in the House on Thursday, the black walnut became one step closer to holding the high honor.
Coffey was one of three 'no' votes on House Bill 2840, which passed 103-3. Legislators jokingly booed the contrarians. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the black walnut can be found statewide and its tree can grow up to 150 feet high.
No drama stood in the way of passing state Rep. Matt Hanson's, D-Aurora, House Bill 3817 which made the soybean the official state bean of Illinois. It was passed unanimously.
Bipartisan support for food desert bill
Gov. JB Pritzker’s $49.6 billion budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year includes $20 million in funding to eliminate food deserts throughout the state. Now legislation advancing out of the Senate on Friday also hopes to address the issue.
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Through Senate Bill 1360, the state Department of Agriculture is ordered to create a nutritious food program focusing on distribution and education. The bill, passed unanimously, defines a food desert as an urban or rural area that meets determined poverty standards and distance away from a supermarket or large grocery store.
State Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, was a co-sponsor of the bill from state Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and said it will be much appreciated in the rural portions of her 48th Senate District. Fowler’s district includes some of the southernmost counties in the state that experience some of the highest rates of food insecurity in Illinois.
“I’m sure some of you can relate that well-stocked grocery stores can be hard to find in parts of our state, especially in southern Illinois,” he said.
Local senators split on flag bill
A bill opening the process for Illinois to create a new state flag advanced out of the Senate on Thursday, but not before a brief debate between Springfield's two senators.
Senate Bill 1818 from Turner passed 39-16 during floor debate and will now move to the House. Her bill, still pending House approval and Gov. JB Pritzker's signature, would create a 21-person committee tasked with deciding whether the state needs a new flag.
Turner's first passed bill in the 103rd General Assembly gives the committee until Sept. 1 to determine whether or not the flag needs to be replaced and then until Dec. 3, 2024 - the day in 1818 when Illinois became the 21st state in the union - to report recommendations to the legislature.
The state flag has remained basically the same since it was first adopted in 1915. Its only change in 1969 was an addition of the word “Illinois” underneath an eagle standing on a rock with a shield beneath its feet.
So far, Turner said her office has received hundreds of calls from middle schools and high schools wishing to participate.
"People talk all the time about disconnected the citizenry is with government," she said during floor debate. "I think this is a great opportunity to give people a reason to get excited about Illinois again."
State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, rose in opposition to his fellow Springfield legislator. He said he appreciated Turner bringing the bill to the table, even saying the new designs could be "spectacular," but believed the legislature should spend its time with more pressing matters.
"We need to be focused on the things are constituents are concerned about and I've yet to have that issue of our state flag be raised by one constituent," he said. State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, was the sole Republican 'yes' vote.
McClure previously during Thursday's floor debate joined Democrats in supporting Senate Bill 1561. The bill from state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces.
Victories for the minority party
House Republicans, already the minority party in the prior general assembly, lost ground in November and now face a 78-40 super-minority. The lack of GOP members in the chambers often make legislative victories infrequent for the minority party, but not impossible.
These wins for House Republicans included House Bill 3203 from Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, passing 112-0 which allows the over-the-counter sale of fentanyl test strips and for county health departments to provide them free of charge. Other victories included Democrat-sponsored bills that lacked the needed votes to advance to the Senate.
On Wednesday, a bill that would have required warning labels on all gas stoves manufactured and sold in the state did not receive enough votes to move to the Senate. A simple majority, or 60 votes in the 118-member chamber, was needed to pass House Bill 3572 but only 56 votes were in favor.
Stava-Murray was the bill’s sponsor and clarified her legislation was not about banning gas stoves but only to warn users of the potential burn hazard. It would have gone into effect starting in January 2024, meaning gas stoves sold before then would not require the label.
“This bill is about helping Illinoisans make the best choices for themselves and their families by ensuring that we all have the facts,” she said, her bill making Illinois the first state to issue such a bill.
Republicans were all opposed to the bill, citing increased costs for manufacturers and a potentially slippery slope when it comes to issuing warnings for other products.
On Thursday, House Bill 3104 from freshman state Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, D-Bridgeview, also was defeated by missing a majority vote. The bill would have opened the door for local municipalities to establish rent controls for manufactured homes.
Some Democrats and the Republican Davidsmeyer, contended "rent control" was the improper term for what the bill was trying to accomplish. Others like state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said the title was correct and opposed it for that reason.
"I think is the consequences, especially the private right of action that's generated here, will reverberate in housing and real estate in a major way that will have a negative impact for the future of Illinois," he said.
Capitol News Illinois reporter Peter Hancock contributed.
Contact Patrick Keck: 312-549-9340, email@example.com, twitter.com/pkeckreporter.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: All gender bathroom bill narrowly passes Illinois House