Shriver Center advocates worked zealously this legislative session to achieve some tremendous reforms that will improve the lives of countless low- and moderate-income Illinoisans, as well as expand justice and opportunity for all of us. Some important pieces of legislation did not pass this session, so we will continue to fight through veto session this fall and into next year’s session. Thank you for your continued support and for contacting your legislators when action alerts arrived in your inboxes. Every voice helps!
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Asset Opportunity Legislation
Let’s Provide a Retirement Savings Plan for Illinois Workers—SB 2758/HB 4595. Our coalition worked tirelessly during the legislative session to advance the Secure Choice Savings Program (formerly auto-IRA), and we moved the legislation farther than ever before. The Secure Choice Savings Program will help give millions of Illinois workers access to portable, employment-based Individual Retirement Accounts and the opportunity to build a financially secure future. Secure Choice has been endorsed by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the State Journal-Register. The bill passed out of the Illinois Senate in April and the House Committee on Personnel and Pensions in late May. We will continue our work over the summer and hope to have the bill called for a vote in the House during the fall veto session in late November or early December. Please contact your state representative and tell him or her to support this commonsense approach to ensuring all Illinoisans have the opportunity to retire in dignity. Learn more.
Budget and Tax Legislation
We Need to Maintain Stable Revenue to Protect the State’s Priorities. The Shriver Center has been a leader of the campaign for A Better Illinois, which sought to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to permit a Fair Tax. Illinois’s Constitution currently mandates that the state income tax be set at an unfair, regressive flat rate; a Fair Tax would allow people with lower incomes to pay a lower rate while individuals with higher incomes would pay a higher rate. To get on the ballot, a constitutional amendment must obtain a 3/5 super-majority of both the Senate and House at least six months before the election. The campaign came close but was unable to secure the votes needed. Efforts to put this constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016 are ongoing.
The Shriver Center, in its role as convener of the Responsible Budget Coalition, is also leading the effort to maintain the current 5% income tax rate, which is scheduled to revert to 3.75% on January 1, 2015. If this happens, the state would lose $2 billion in revenue in FY 2015 and a staggering $5 billion in FY 2016. The General Assembly adjourned without taking action on extending the current income tax rate; instead, they balanced the budget with fiscal gimmicks that will postpone program cuts until after the November election. The Shriver Center is working for a post-election restoration of the current 5% tax rate, without which devastating cuts will be made to programs that serve low-income people and other vulnerable populations.
The Shriver Center is also a lead on legislation that would double the state earned income tax credit from 10% of the federal credit to 20% over five years. The earned income tax credit, a refundable tax credit available to low-income workers, encourages work and reduces poverty among nearly a million Illinois taxpayers every year. In a show of strong bipartisan support for increasing the earned income tax credit, 47 House members have signed on as co-sponsors of this legislation.
Contact your representatives and ask them to maintain the 5% tax rate and increase the earned income tax credit. This legislation secured widespread support but was another casualty of the General Assembly’s failure to take action on revenue.
Community Justice Legislation
Qualified Job Applicants Have a Better Chance to Support Themselves and Their Families—HB 5701. The Shriver Center, supported by a coalition of advocates, successfully led the effort to pass the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act (JOQAA), which will fundamentally change the hiring process for over 300,000 employers and open doors for more than a million qualified people with criminal records. Currently, 92% of employers conduct criminal background checks on applicants, and 65% of them reject applicants with even one conviction of any kind. Under the JOQAA, temporary employment agencies and employers with 15 or more employees, who are not required by law to reject applicants with records, will be prohibited from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history in any form until after the applicant receives written notification of the employer’s intent to interview or a conditional offer of employment. We are hopeful Governor Quinn will sign the bill in the coming weeks. Learn more.
Older Low-Level Offenses Are Now Eligible for Sealing—HB 2378. The Shriver Center also successfully passed HB 2378, which will give more than a quarter million men and women with minor, older, low-level offenses (misdemeanors) in Illinois an opportunity to petition the court to limit who can look at those old convictions (a process called sealing). This legislation will help ensure that hard-working individuals with old, minor convictions are not unjustly denied jobs, housing, or other opportunities. We are hoping that the Governor will sign this bill in the coming weeks, as well. Learn more.
Economic Justice Legislation
Elderly and Disabled Refugees and Asylees Now Have a More Adequate Safety Net—SB 2735/HB 4369. The Shriver Center successfully advocated for an increase in the monthly grant paid to certain elderly and disabled refugees and asylees. This AABD Grant program provides income support to elderly and disabled refugees and asylees suspended from the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program because they were not able to become U.S. citizens within seven years. These individuals’ monthly assistance will increase from $500 to $649 and will automatically increase annually so as to remain at 90% of the maximum SSI payment amount. Funding for this increase and the required statutory change were included in the fiscal year 2015 budget adopted by the General Assembly and the accompanying legislation implementing the budget. Learn more.
The Shriver Center also led the successful effort to defeat several proposals that sought to stigmatize and dehumanize recipients of public benefits, including bills that would have mandated drug testing of public benefits recipients, required photo identification on the electronic benefits cards recipients use, and limited SNAP recipients’ food choices.
We Need to Increase the Child Support Pass-through for TANF Families—SB 3216. This bill would increase the amount of the child support collected on behalf of families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that is turned over to the family without reducing the family’s TANF benefits. Currently Illinois "passes through" a maximum of $50 per month of child support although the federal maximum is $200. Increasing the pass-through to the federal maximum would not only increase the income of some of Illinois’s poorest families but it would also let noncustodial parents see that their child support payments actually help their kids, and thereby encourage noncustodial parents to pay regularly and on time and be more involved in their children's lives. The bill passed the Senate and the House Human Services Committee, but concerns about its cost kept it from going to a vote in the House. We are hopeful that it will pass in the fall veto session or next year since it has wide support among General Assembly members.
Health Care Justice Legislation
Critical Benefits in the Medicaid Program Are Restored—SB 741. The General Assembly wisely restored some health care benefits that it had eliminated or overly restricted in the 2011 Medicaid budget reduction law known as the SMART Act. Starting July 1, 2014, all adults on Medicaid will have access to dental services (exams, crowns, fillings, extractions, and dentures). Medicaid adult dental services still are not comprehensive; they do not cover preventive services such as cleanings or periodontal services, except for pregnant women.
The General Assembly also restored general coverage for services from podiatrists, starting October 1; these services had been restricted in 2011 to Medicaid patients with diabetes.
The General Assembly also lifted the 20-visit maximum for speech, hearing, language, occupational, and therapy that it had imposed in 2011. Starting October 1, Medicaid patients will be able to access as many therapist visits as are medically necessary, with prior approval from the Medicaid agency.
Finally the General Assembly exempted anti-psychotic medication prescriptions and medicines for a group of children with complex medical needs from certain prior authorization requirements imposed in 2011. These requirements had prevented recipients from obtaining more than four prescriptions per month.
The Shriver Center, working in coalition with other health advocates and Medicaid recipients, had been pressing for these benefit changes since passage of the SMART Act in 2011. Advocates argued that the 2011 restrictions were hurting patients and not saving money for the state because patients ended up sicker and sought much more expensive care in emergency rooms and hospitals when they could not get the medications, services, and therapies they needed
Housing Justice Legislation
Execution of Evictions by Any Peace Officer Is Prevented—HB 5395. Along with a coalition of advocates and the Cook County Sheriff’s office, the Shriver Center vigorously opposed HB 5395, which would allow any peace officer, including off-duty police officers, to execute an eviction in Cook County. The bill would have also limited the number of post-judgment requests to stop an eviction that a tenant could present in court. By allowing any peace officer, on or off duty, to execute evictions, the bill could expose renters to evictions at the hands of individuals who have no supervision or training in executing court orders and who lack the necessary information to understand if the eviction order is proper. The bill received a substantial amount of negative press and was ultimately not called for a vote.
Tenants Are Protected from Eviction for Minor Noise Complaints—HB 1532. The Shriver Center opposed HB 1532, which would have exposed renters to emergency eviction proceedings for minor municipal ordinance violations such as noise complaints and could have resulted in the eviction of victims of violence who called the police for help. Along with the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Shriver Center negotiated an amendment to the bill to protect people who call the police from being evicted. Ultimately, the bill did not move forward due to opposition from other organizations, local governments, and the state attorneys association.
Women’s Law and Policy Project Legislation
Pregnant Workers Have a Right to Reasonable Accommodations—HB 8. The final version of HB 8 passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously. Sponsored by Rep. Mary Flowers in the House and Sen. Toi Hutchinson in the Senate, this legislation will ensure workplace fairness by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. Three-quarters of women now entering the workforce will become pregnant. Most pregnant women need to keep working for as long as possible during their pregnancies to support their growing families. HB 8 will ensure that no woman will have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and her job. Governor Quinn supports the legislation and will sign the bill soon. The law will be effective as of January 1, 2015. Learn more.
Domestic and Sexual Violence Survivors Have More Workplace Protections—SB 3038 (formerly SB 2003 and HA 1). The Shriver Center also led the successful effort to amend the Workplace Violence Prevention Act, a law that became effective January 1, 2014. The law, pre-amendments, allows employers to obtain orders of protection on behalf of its employees who are the target of any unlawful violence, including employees who are domestic or sexual violence survivors, without notice or consultation. By allowing an employer to pursue an order of protection on behalf of an employee without notice or consultation, employers may put domestic and sexual violence survivors at greater risk of harm not only on the job, but more likely, while not at work. SB 3038 amends the law to remove any legal proceedings pursued under the Workplace Violence Prevention Act from the IDVA process. SB 3038 also provides some protections for survivors, including requiring employers to notify and consult with survivors before petitioning the court for a protective order, and provides remedies for employers’ violations of the Act. The amended bill was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House, and we hope that Governor Quinn will sign the bill as soon as possible.
Raise the Minimum Wage—SB 68 SA4/HB 3718. Instead of passing SB 68 SA4 or HB 3718, which would have raised the state minimum wage over three years from its current $8.25/hour to $10.65/hour in 2016, the General Assembly passed HB 3814. HB 3814 puts an advisory question on the ballot in the November 4, 2014, election that will ask, “Shall the minimum wage in Illinois for adults over 18 be raised to $10 per hour by January 1, 2015?” We encourage voters to support the referendum by voting yes on November 4, so that the Shriver Center and its coalition partners can win an increase for workers when the General Assembly reconvenes after the election. Learn more.
Domestic Workers Need Employment Protections—SB 1708/HB 4174. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would protect domestic workers from exploitation and unfair treatment by ensuring basic workplace protections affecting workers’ wages, work environment, and employer obligations. The bill did not pass this session, however the Shriver Center and its coalition partners continued to make progress on the language of the bill in both the House and Senate, and we will continue our efforts to pass this important legislation. Learn more.
Ensure Success in School for Pregnant and Parenting Teens and Survivors of Domestic or Sexual Violence—HB 2213. The Ensuring Success in School legislation focuses on elementary and secondary students who are parents, expectant parents, or survivors of domestic or sexual violence. The goal of the legislation is to ensure these students stay in school, stay safe, succeed academically and complete their education. The bill passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. The Shriver Center will continue its advocacy efforts on behalf of these students.