Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Legislative roundup

By Lauren N. Johnson

While workers’ compensation reform, “smart grid” legislation and the state budget made headlines, lawmakers took end-of-session action on several other measures that would impact drivers, immigrants and the health and well being of residents, including student athletes

Executive appointments
House Bill 2972, which passed in both legislative chambers, would automatically put appointees out of a job once they serve 60 days beyond their expired terms

The bill is a compromised version of Senate Bill 1, sponsored by all four legislative caucus leaders: Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, of Lamont;  House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat; and House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego. Quinn took his veto pen to SB 1 to move back the effective date, so he would have more time to make decisions on holdover employees. HB 2972 gives the governor more time by allowing holdovers to stay in their jobs for 60 days. Under SB 1, paid holdovers would have been out of a job immediately, while unpaid appointees could serve up to 30 days past their terms.

Sex education
Local school districts choosing to offer sex education would be required to teach a "medically accurate and developmentally appropriate" curriculum, under  House Bill 3027, which would allow educators to choose from a range of “age appropriate” materials offered by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a Maywood Democrat, and Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, would mandate that materials be handed out to teach students how to protect themselves and their partners during sex. Under the bill, which passed in both chambers, parents could review the materials and decide whether their children should participate.

Illinois DREAM Act
Undocumented students who were brought to the country by immigrant parents as children would be able to invest in prepaid tuition and college savings programs under the so-called Illinois DREAM Act, which lawmakers sent to the governor

Senate Bill 2185, would set up a commission to oversee a scholarship fund dedicated solely for undocumented youth – who must have attended high school – seeking access to an affordable higher education.

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Illinois House is truly historic,” Lawrence Benito, deputy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said in a prepared statement after the bill’s passage. “This vote is a victory for our state and an important step forward in recognizing the contributions of immigrants.”

The proposal, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton and Rep. Edward Acevedo, both Chicago Democrats, would allow private funds to be administered by a nine-member commission of volunteer state workers and students. The program would not cost Illinois taxpayers.

The bill would not grant citizenship to undocumented residents in the state, although supporters say it was modeled after the federal DREAM Act.

Athletic concussions
House Bill 200 would require the Illinois High School Association to distribute information about concussions produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help educate coaches, student athletes, and parents on the risks of sports-related head injuries.

Park districts in the state are also encouraged to provide information on the dangers of head injuries to residents and users of park district facilities, including young athletes, under a measure sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego and Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, that passed the House this week.

“We have seen too many disturbing stories about the long-term negative impact that a concussion can have,” said Raoul, who worked with Chicago Bears' 1985 Super Bowl champions Richard Dent, Kurt Becker and Otis Wilson, along with Illinois school and park districts. “From little league football to the NFL, and all levels and types of sports, this legislation will help make sure that girls and boys, men and women better protect themselves from potentially life-altering head injuries,” he said.

Safety belts
All passengers in the back seat would be required to wear a “properly adjusted” seat belt, under House Bill 219, sponsored by Rep. Mark Beaubian, a Barrington Hills Republican, and Senate President John Cullerton, that passed the Senate, 30-23.

Cullerton, who championed the bill, told reporters it would save lives. In Illinois, 264 people died in motor vehicle accidents while not wearing seat belts in 2009. Nationally, 1,095 back-seat passengers died as result of not wearing seat belts in that same year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The bill would be an add on to the seat belt law that took effect in July 2003, which required only the driver, front seat passengers and passengers under the age of 18 in the back seat to wear seat belts.

If Quinn signs the legislation, Illinois will become the 26th state to require all occupants to buckle up in the front and back of a car. Back-seat passengers of taxicabs and those who ride in emergency ambulance vehicles would be exempt. Passengers who failed to wear seat belts could be fined up to $60, according to the Illinois State Police, not including potential costs for court fees.

Trans fat ban
What has become an annual push to ban trans fats failed again this year. Lawmakers have typically target schools for the ban, but this time, restaurants and other foods facilities would have had to stop serving food with trans fat. Under House Bill 1600, sponsored by Democratic Rep. LaShawn Ford and Sen. Donne Trotter, both of Chicago, the ban would have taken effect in January 2013.

The bill, which passed the House in April but failed in the Senate with only 13 “yes” votes, excluded from the ban small businesses that earn less than $4 million in profits annually, schools and government institutions. It would, however, have barred public and private schools from selling foods containing trans fat in vending machines.

Opponents of the bill questioned whether the state would be taking on a “nanny” role by passing such legislation. Sen. Mike Jacobs said: “I love Oreo cookies, and I love the trans fat in the old Oreo cookies. Now, I’ll still eat the Oreo cookies, but I liked them better when they had the trans fat. Frankly, I think I ought to make that decision, rather than my colleague.”

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