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Lengthy to-do list greets lawmakers final week of session, part 2  


Wednesday, May 24, 2023  |  Article  |  Associated Press

Lawmakers return to Springfield Wednesday for another try at wrapping up the spring session with a longer list of items on their plate for this week than when they arrived last Tuesday for what many thought would be the final week of session. 


The largest piece of legislation and biggest requirement for lawmakers to pass before adjourning for the spring is the state budget. Internal disagreements among Democrats over pieces of the budget have forced that vote to be pushed off to this week. The Wednesday through Friday schedule for the week would require the Senate to pass the budget on Wednesday to move it to the House for a first reading so the House can pass the budget on Friday.  


Aside from the budget, lawmakers amended several bills last Friday with major pieces of legislation they hope to pass before the end of the week. 


Chicago school board maps 


Lawmakers have released two drafts of possible school board maps so far and neither received glowing reviews. Both were heavily criticized by Hispanic residents in Chicago as well as some Chicago City Council members for not including enough Hispanic-majority districts. Each draft created five white-majority districts, seven Black-majority districts and five Hispanic-majority districts.  


Vanessa Espinoza from Kids First Chicago said lawmakers have largely ignored public feedback. 


“CPS parents understandably feel they have been disregarded in their voices throughout this process, and now in your final actions as a committee you have disrespected us by holding your final draft secret for the past week, shutting down any further possibility of any public input before you rush this through a vote at the last minute,” Espinoza said.  


Some advocates have called for drawing a map that reflects the demographics of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as well as non-citizen Hispanic residents. CPS data shows 46.5 percent of students are Hispanic, 35.8 percent are Black, and 11 percent are white. However, state and federal law requires districts to reflect the demographics of the voting-eligible population. 


Lawmakers face a July 1 deadline to pass maps for the Chicago elected school board, but Democratic leaders have not given any indication as to how the maps will be reflected in a bill before the end of session or if there will be a third map drawn. 


Cannabis reform 


A new cannabis reform package sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) emerged Friday afternoon. While the bill (SB1559) received some criticism in committee for not focusing more on reforms to help more minority owners get into the cannabis industry, the bill makes several changes to the state’s cannabis regulations.  


The bill would expand space limits for craft growers by 9,000 square feet, allow drive-thrus at dispensaries, lengthens extensions for organizations with a dispensary license to find a permanent location, puts a two-year moratorium on transportation licenses, and eliminates the requirement that cannabis be transported in cars in odor-proof containers.   


Ford told the committee he would be filing a new amendment on the bill before it’s voted on. Once it passes the House, the bill would need to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote.  


Elections package 


Lawmakers are set to consider a bill with several election reforms. SB2132 is sponsored by Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville).  


After much discussion this spring, the bill would establish a task force to explore how ranked-choice voting can be implemented in Illinois and make recommendations for any changes to the state’s election procedures to ensure election authorities have the proper systems for reading ranked-choice ballots. The bill sets a goal of the 2028 presidential primary election as the state’s first ranked-choice voting contest. No other races on the ballot in that election would have ranked-choice voting. 


The bill also aims to make constitutional amendments more prominent on ballots by requiring it to be the first thing listed on voters’ ballots and requiring the amendment be on the same ballot as other contests rather than on a separate ballot.  


Other changes in the bill include allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote, allowing 17-year-olds to circulate petitions if they will be 18 by the general election, removing a requirement that campaigns list any donors responsible for 33 percent or more of the campaign’s funds as a “sponsoring entity” and makes the November 5, 2024 general election day a state holiday.  


The bill would also undo an appointment made by former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in her final days in office. The bill would ban Chicago mayors from making appointments to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority within 45 days of the end of their term and the bill would make that policy retroactive to April 1. Just days before leaving office, Lightfoot appointed her deputy mayor for economic development Samir Mayekar to the board.  


Red-light camera ethics bill 


After multiple scandals including some involving state lawmakers, the General Assembly is moving a bill that cracks down on some of the ethics issues and other problems that have arisen from red-light cameras.   


Under HB3903 led by Sen. Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines), automated traffic systems like red-light cameras and speed cameras would be subjected to new regulations that largely target ethical questions raised by various incidents of corruption and aggressive ticketing by the devices. The bill would require studies of cameras, ban government employees in municipalities from working for a traffic camera company, ban the companies from contributing to political campaigns, and allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to revoke approval for a camera involved in a corruption scheme.  


Multiple public officials have become wrapped up in scandals with red-light cameras. Most recently Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) was charged with taking a bribe from SafeSpeed, the company at the center of many of the scandals, in exchange for killing a bill that would have required a study of automated traffic cameras. 


The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Friday, including with Jones’ support, and now awaits a concurrence vote in the House.  


BIPA reform  


A bill surfaced on Friday that would make some changes to the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). HB3811 by Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) raises the fee for businesses violating BIPA from $1,000 per offense to $1,500 per offense and clarifies that an offense only occurs the first time a person’s biometric information is obtained through a specific method.   


However, business groups that have called for an overhaul to BIPA said at a news conference Friday the bill makes the state’s law worse because it increases the penalty and does not require parties in class action lawsuits to prove they’ve been harmed by giving a business their biometric data.  


Business leaders were also unhappy to see the amendment because they thought there had been an agreement on a possible bill.  


“Several people up here today have negotiated in very good faith this spring to have reasonable reform to go after some of the very outrageous judgements that we see, honestly,” Illinois Railroad Association President Tim Butler said Friday. “And we thought we were there. What we see in this amendment that was, again, filed late [Thursday] night, is the opposite of that.”   


The bill was supposed to be called for a vote in the Senate Executive Committee Friday, but it was held back for more discussions.