2019 Legislative Session Overview
Governor Pritzker’s “Fair Tax” Proposal
The decision as to whether to move from a flat income tax to a graduated income tax will now be up to the citizens of Illinois, who will decide the question via referendum at the November, 2020 general election. In order for the graduated tax to go into effect, 60% of voters must vote in favor.
Before asking the voters to weigh in on that question, however, it was important to ensure that Illinois residents have access to the information necessary to make an informed decision as to how this change would impact their families. The Governor’s proposal includes specific rates so that voters can decide based on the entirety of their tax burden and funding priorities.
To find out how you would be impacted by Governor Pritzker’s “Fair Tax” proposal, you can utilize the Fair Tax Calculator.
Legalization of Recreational Cannabis
As you’ve likely heard by now, the General Assembly voted to legalize recreational cannabis in Illinois. Throughout the negotiation process, the sponsors worked closely with advocacy organizations and law enforcement to ensure our approach to legalization was responsible and equitable – while also bringing in significant revenue to our state.
Certainly, the passage of this legislation represents a significant shift in our culture when it comes to cannabis. We are hopeful that this carefully crafted legislation will provide a strong example for other states, particularly with regard to community investment and attention to mental health and substance abuse resources. The measure also provides mechanisms to address the negative impacts on communities stemming from the “war on drugs,” making Illinois a leader in criminal justice reform among states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The current medical marijuana program will remain unchanged, and those who currently participate will be allowed to grow up to five plants in their own homes. Individuals who are not a part of the medical program will not have access to home grow.
Sports Betting & Gaming
This session we also legalized sports betting and expanded gaming in Illinois. As a part of the gambling package, Chicago will be able to own and operate its own casino, with the opportunity to develop smaller casinos in the south suburbs, downstate, and various other locations. Sports betting licenses will be available to existing and newly authorized casinos as well as major league sports facilities. The revenue generated from this proposal will go directly back into the community to pay for “vertical” capital projects such as construction projects for our neighborhood schools and other building and infrastructure needs.
A Balanced Budget
The centerpiece of our legislative session was a balanced budget for the 2020 fiscal year. The end product is fiscally responsible and allocates over one billion dollars to pay down our state’s debt and backlog of unpaid bills. This will help to slash interest costs and continue to fulfill our pension obligations. The budget provides a significant funding increase for our public schools, and invests more dollars in higher education. The budget boosts funding for mental health services, adds new resources for DCFS, raises the minimum wage, increases funding for early childhood education programs, creates violence prevention and job training programs, and funds increases in mental health programming.
Capital Funding for Infrastructure and Schools
|For the first time in years, the General Assembly came together to craft a capital bill to provide much needed funding for neglected infrastructure needs. From roads and bridges to neighborhood schools, universities and hospitals, this bipartisan legislation provides $45 billion for public works construction programs, with $33.2 billion going to roads and bridges, and $3.5 billion dedicated to improving our local schools. Remaining funds will be divided between environmental conservation projects, deployment of broadband internet, healthcare and human services facilities, etc. Here in the 11th District, nine schools will receive funding for much needed repairs and construction projects. Additionally, the local YMCA will receive revenue for various renovations.
For the first time ever, there will also be dedicated funding for walking and biking projects as well as sustainable funding for public transit. Affordable housing was also an important part of the capital bill. The capital bill was the result of a bipartisan deal which will be funded through gaming taxes as well as hikes in the gas tax and cigarette tax.
My Legislative Priorities
Clean and Renewable Energy
As noted in the 2019 Clean Jobs Midwest Report, Illinois currently leads the Midwest in renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and advanced grid jobs. This is in large part due to the passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016, and this session we continued to build on this positive momentum. As Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, I continue to work closely with environmental advocates and energy producers on policies to address climate change and protect our environment while also expanding our clean energy economy.
This session, the legislature moved the ball forward in this regard when Representative Williams introduced the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624). This groundbreaking piece of legislation puts Illinois on an equitable path to 100% renewable energy by 2050. It also aims to cut carbon from the power sector by 2030, and reduce gas and diesel vehicles from the transportation sector. Most importantly, it creates jobs and takes steps to ensure that all Illinoisans can take part in the new green economy and share in the benefits of clean renewable energy. More information about the bill can be found HERE. Representative Williams’ plan is to continue to work on this initiative over the summer and hopefully pass a comprehensive and substantive package in the fall veto session.
Teaching Comprehensive Consent in Sex Education
In the wake of last summer’s Tribune expose regarding sexual abuse in the Chicago Public Schools, local elected officials heard a lot about background checks and discipline, but not enough about the prevention of sexual assault and abuse. After extensive research, discussions with advocacy organizations and conversations with survivors, Representative Williams and her team realized one critical element of prevention efforts is a comprehensive and consistent approach to teaching the meaning of consent to students.
Experts consider the teaching of consent in schools to be an integral component of sexual abuse prevention – and that current law did not give educators the guidance they needed to teach this important concept in a clear and uniform fashion. In response, Representative Williams introduced HB 3550 to add a comprehensive definition of consent to the statute governing sex education in Illinois. This legislation makes Illinois one of a dozen or so states to teach comprehensive consent in the classroom. You can read more about this bill in the Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Southerner.
Data Privacy and Transparency
This session, I continued to fight for personal data privacy by introducing two data protection bills: the Geolocation Privacy Protection Act (HB 2785) and the Personal Information Protection Act (HB 2784). These bills faced strong opposition and unfortunately, did not advance this session. However, they will remain at the top of my legislative agenda moving forward.
It is critical that consumers are aware of how and where their personal and private data is collected, shared, sold, and monetized. To learn more about data privacy you can tune in to my discussion of the issue with reporter Katie Kim in an NBC segment regarding the practice of geofencing.
Illinois did realize one important victory for privacy interests, thanks to the efforts of Raise Your Hand Illinois Action and my colleague Representative Rob Martwick, who sponsored the Student Online Personal Protection Act (HB 3606). When signed into law, the bill will provide for the rights of parents to know and control how their child’s personal data is used by schools, educational data companies, and government agencies.
Education and School Funding
As always, Representative Williams remains strongly committed to ensuring that our neighborhood schools receive the funding and resources they need. We made education a priority this session, and K-12 education funding was increased by $375 million. Additionally, $3.5 billion from the capital bill will be spent on long overdue construction projects for our public schools. This session we also passed a $40K minimum teacher salary, to guarantee that teachers are paid a fair and living wage. Representative Williams will continue to work closely with local school administrators, LSCs and advocacy organizations to ensure our schools are adequately funded. Representative Williams looks forward to working with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to find new ways that our city and state government can work together to support and elevate our neighborhood schools.
Common sense gun control legislation continues to be one Representative Williams’ top priorities. This session, she co-sponsored SB 1966, which included a provision to fix the FOID (Firearm Owners Identification) card program. This bill was introduced after the Aurora shooting, where five people were killed by a gunman who should not have been in possession of a firearm. This legislation would have closed dangerous loopholes regarding who is eligible to purchase a firearm. It also would have strengthened background checks for people obtaining FOID cards by requiring fingerprinting. Though this legislation did not pass this session, Representative Williams remains engaged with the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, Moms Demand Action, MASK, and other common sense gun control groups to advocate for legislative solutions to keep our communities safe.
Reproductive Health Act
After months of hard work and dedication by many organizations and individuals, the Reproductive Health Act passed the General Assembly. This bill was a priority for Representative Williams, and it truly made history.
The vote did not come easily. It was the result of unprecedented advocacy efforts throughout Illinois – from the dedicated women who donned the handmaid’s robe and traveled to the Capitol week after week, to the relentless work of organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Men4Choice and Personal PAC, to the thousands of individuals who contacted their representatives and urged their friends and family to do the same.
The result is that for the first time, Illinois women will have an affirmative, foundational right to abortion, birth control, and maternal care – regardless of the status of Roe v. Wade. The bill will ensure that reproductive health care is treated like any other form of healthcare. Illinois is setting an example. We won’t go back.
To watch Representative Williams’ remarks on the House floor in support of the Reproductive Health Act, please follow this link.
Discrimination, Harassment, and Ethics Omnibus Legislation
The #MeToo movement shined a light on issues of sexual harassment both in the Capitol environment and in the private sector. In response, the General Assembly has been working to ensure that employees in every workplace feel safe and protected while on the job.
After weeks of negotiation, Representative Williams sponsored- and the General Assembly passed- an omnibus, bipartisan and bicameral bill to expand and strengthen the laws surrounding unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This legislation prohibits employees from being forced to waive their rights regarding sexual harassment or discrimination in order to get a job. It updates numerous other protections, establishes an array of basic rights for complainants and ensures that resources are available for employees should their rights be violated. By working together, we can ensure that every employee in the State of Illinois enjoys the legal protections they deserve to feel safe, respected and productive in the workplace. To read the bill, please visit ilga.gov.