It’s the midpoint of Illinois Governor Rauner’s first legislative session, and the Shriver Center is hard at work in Springfield. Shriver Center advocates are pursuing legislation that will advance the interests of low- and middle-income Illinoisans. Amidst budget cuts to key programs, our advocates work to maintain and expand access to these programs, preserve and defend housing and employment opportunities, and forestall measures that would inhibit progress the state has made.
Below is an update on some of the legislative initiatives the Shriver Center is pursuing. Please join us in supporting the passage of these bills.
Lifetime bar bill. HB 494 removes lifetime bars to employment in schools for individuals with old drug, prostitution, and public indecency convictions so schools have the freedom to hire applicants with old convictions if the school deems it appropriate. The bill passed out of the Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum and Policies Committee with an amendment that includes special provisions for certain narcotics offenses. It is now on the House floor waiting for a vote.
Admonishment bill. HB 2569 updates the admonishment instructions given to defendants so that defendants are properly educated on the consequences of pleading guilty to a crime. Specifically, the bill requires that defendants be informed that a conviction will impact their ability to retain or obtain housing in the public or private market; acquire loans for educational or other purposes; enroll in certain degree programs; retain or obtain employment; retain or obtain an occupational or driver’s license; possess a firearm; and retain or obtain custody of a child. The bill passed out of the House unanimously and is now in the Senate awaiting committee assignment with Senator Terry Link as Chief Sponsor.
Sealing of convictions. HB 3149 allows people who earn a vocational certification, GED, high school diploma, or some other degree to petition to have their eligible convictions sealed prior to the statutorily required four-year waiting period. The bill passed unanimously out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and passed out of the House with an overwhelming majority. The bill does have strong bipartisan support, and advocates are optimistic about its passage.
Health care background check. HB 3212 removes lifetime bars in the health care sector by amending the Health Care Workers Background Check Act. It replaces language prohibiting a health care employer from hiring, employing, or retaining any individual in a position with duties involving direct care for clients if the individual is convicted of committing specified offenses with language providing these employers with more discretion in hiring. The bill failed to be voted on by the Health Care Licenses Committee prior to the March deadline, and it has now been re-referred to the Rules Committee.
Fair Sentencing Act. HB 3322 allows people to petition the courts to be resentenced if the penalty for the offense they were convicted of is modified by the Illinois General Assembly in some way so that their sentence will be consistent with what is current law. The bill passed out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee with a close vote of 9 for and 6 against. It is now on the House floor awaiting a vote from the full chamber.
Certificate of Good Conduct. HB 3475 expands eligibility for Certificates of Good Conduct to include people who have committed non-sex-related forcible felonies. This allows people who have made grave mistakes to have at least one avenue beyond clemency to demonstrate they have turned their lives around so they can better care for themselves and their children. The bill passed unanimously out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and passed out of the House with an overwhelming majority.
Sealing Criminal Records. HB 4021 shortens the waiting period to petition for sealing so people who have gone three years without committing a crime after completing their sentences have a chance to petition for sealing. The bill passed unanimously out of the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and is now on the House floor awaiting a vote from the full chamber.
Budget and Tax Justice
Ensuring adequate revenue to meet needs. The Shriver Center is a leader of the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC), a large and diverse coalition of about 200 organizations working to secure adequate revenue to support state priorities and make smart investments. The RBC has established a profile as a leading opponent of Governor Rauner’s proposed cuts to vital services and has been working closely with Senate and House staff on hearings into the budget. The Shriver Center’s Budget and Tax Justice Unit continues to work through the 2015 session to ensure that critical programs that serve low-income people throughout the state are sustained.
Defending critical public benefits. The Shriver Center, working with other advocates, successfully defeated all of the legislative proposals this session that would have decreased access to critical public benefits and/or stigmatized or dehumanized their recipients. These included bills that would have (1) mandated that all applicants for and recipients of public benefits pass a drug test, (2) required a photograph on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) EBT card recipients use to redeem their benefits, and (3) limited SNAP recipients’ food choices.
Making working families with high living expenses eligible for SNAP benefits. SB 1847 expands eligibility for SNAP benefits to 40,000 working families in Illinois. These families would receive an average of $125 per month in SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits are 100% federally funded, and this expansion would bring $60 million into the state. SB 1847 has cleared the Senate Human Services Committee and will be taken up by the full Senate in the next two weeks.
Health Care Justice
Medicaid cuts. Shriver Center advocates along with allies across the state are working to stop the massive cuts to health care Illinois Governor Rauner proposed in his fiscal year 2016 budget (starting July 1, 2015). The governor wants to cut $1.5 billion from the Medicaid budget by eliminating care for whole classes of people, eliminating services such as adult dental, limiting access to therapies, and reducing payment rates to providers. His proposals ignore key facts about the Medicaid program; Illinois providers are among the lowest paid in the nation, and the Medicaid program’s costs per beneficiary are also among the lowest in the nation. Moreover, these proposals, if enacted, would unravel progress in improving quality, outcomes, and costs made in the last several years. Shriver Center advocates work at General Assembly Appropriations hearings and through the media to inform the public about the painful impact of the proposed cuts on vulnerable people and the likelihood that, in the long run, these cuts will result in sicker people who need more expensive care.
The Shriver Center is working with allies for the passage of SB 1729 and HB 2731, identical bills requiring the state Medicaid agency to make available Medicaid enrollment and renewal data and data related to the quality in Medicaid managed care plans.
The Shriver Center is also working for passage of HR 253, a resolution stating that General Assembly members do not support changes to the Medicaid program that leave people without access to medically necessary care or erroneously result in eligible people being terminated from or denied Medicaid coverage.
Protecting survivors of domestic violence. SB 1547, sponsored by Senator Toi Hutchinson, protects survivors of violence and persons with disabilities who need police assistance. Its passage will ensure that no more survivors of domestic violence or people with disabilities are harmed through the enforcement of flawed local ordinances. It passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and now has bipartisan support—over 20 co-sponsors in the Senate, and over 80 supporting organizations throughout the state. Because SB 1547 will require a two-thirds vote out of the Senate, it has a more difficult journey than most bills. For that reason, the ongoing efforts of both advocates and community members are critical in the coming weeks to ensure that this bill continues to move through the General Assembly and ultimately becomes law in Illinois.
Women’s Law and Policy
Granting employment protections to domestic workers. Domestic workers play a critical role in the Illinois economy, working to ensure the health and prosperity of Illinois families and freeing others to participate in the workforce. Despite this, domestic workers have historically been excluded from state law protections extended to other industries. The Shriver Center’s Women’s Law and Policy Project (WLPP), as part of the Domestic Workers’ Coalition, is advocating for the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. This legislation grants domestic workers employment protections, such as the right to the state’s minimum wage, the right to be free from sexual harassment, and the right to one day of rest in a workweek. The bill’s sponsors are Representative Elizabeth Hernandez and Senator Ira Silverstein. Please note that the current bill number is likely to change in the next few weeks.
Increasing the state’s minimum wage. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour—about $17,000 a year. Inaction at the federal and state level has allowed the minimum wage to erode over time. Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.90 today. This year, the WLPP and its allies continue to advocate for a raise in the state’s minimum wage, phased in to $11 an hour. Currently, there are bills in both the Senate and the House, but the current bill numbers are likely to change in the next few weeks.
Paid sick days for all workers. Forty-three percent of private sector workers in Illinois (over 2.5 million) have no right to a single paid sick day. Workers can be fired for missing work if they are sick or caring for their sick child or elderly parent. The WLPP is working with the Illinois Earned Sick Time Coalition to pass legislation that gives all workers in Illinois access to paid sick days. The legislation introduced in the Illinois General Assembly allows employees to earn up to seven paid sick days (or 56 hours) per year. Senator Toi Hutchinson is the Senate sponsor, and Representative Christian Mitchell is the House sponsor. Please note that the bill numbers are likely to change in the next few weeks.
Rachel Hanley contributed significantly to this blog post.