Senate Week in Review: March 18-22, 2019

Several important bills – some of them controversial – were among the measures considered by lawmakers during the week to meet a March 22 deadline to move Senate bills out of committees.
 
Among the legislation reviewed by committees during the week were measures that would repeal parental notification for abortions, target fentanyl, and protect victims in sexual harassment cases.
 
In other action, a pro-life rally on March 20 generated a larger than expected turnout, estimated at more than 3,600.  The first floor of the Capitol quickly reached maximum capacity, and security officials had to keep people from entering the building for a short time.
 
Also during the week, FFA students and agricultural advocates from throughout Illinois descended on the Capitol for Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day on March 19
 
Thousands of pro-life advocates oppose bills
 
Thousands of people from across Illinois came to the Capitol March 20 to voice their strong opposition to several controversial bills that would expand abortion rights and repeal the parental notification law.  It was quite a sight to see the overflow crowd of people at the Pro-Life Rally Lobby Day.  I stand alongside pro-life advocates to oppose these bills.
 
One of the controversial measures passed a Senate committee during the week.  Senate Bill 1594 would repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995, which prohibits a doctor from performing an abortion on a minor unless they have given at least 48 hours’ notice to a parent or guardian.
 
Opponents of the measure have raised concerns that minors do not have the emotional maturity to make such a difficult decision, which will have lifelong consequences, without the support of a parent or guardian.  They argue that a parent has a responsibility to provide for the health and emotional well-being of their child, and that repealing parental notification for abortions impedes their ability to fulfill that responsibility.
 
Senate Bill 1594 passed in the Senate Public Health Committee on March 19 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

For more of my thoughts on this issue, please visit my website www.senatorstewart.com and read my column from Friday, March 22.
 
Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day at the Capitol
 
Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day brings together farm, agricultural commodity organizations and agriculture interest groups to advocate to lawmakers about the importance of Illinois agriculture and agriculture education.
 
We welcomed students from Pecatonica, Amboy, Earlville, and Ashton-Franklin Center.
 
Agriculture is a major driver of Illinois’ economy. 

Marketing the state’s agricultural commodities generates more than $19 billion,with billions more flowing into the state from ag-related industries.
 

Legislation takes aim at fentanyl
 
Legislation taking aim at fentanyl, now the biggest cause of opioid overdose deaths, passed the Criminal Law Committee during the week.

Despite the fact that fentanyl is now considered to be the biggest cause of opioid overdose deaths, current Illinois criminal law treats it as a lesser threat.  That could all change under Senate Bill 199, which would put the drug on the same level as heroin.
 
According to 2018 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is now the drug that is most frequently involved in overdoses in the United States.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.  While it is commercially sold as a prescription pain reliever, much of the drug involved in overdoses and deaths is made illegally.  It is often mixed in with heroin and cocaine by dealers.

Senate Bill 199 creates a Class 1 felony penalty structure for the possession of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, targeted at illegal dealers and suppliers of the drug.  It gives law enforcement another tool in the battle against the opioid crisis.
 
Senate Bill 199 passed the Senate Criminal Law committee unanimously and is now awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
 
New legislation creates statewide sexual assault evidence tracking system
 
New legislation, which aims to provide sexual assault victims more transparency on the status of the processing of rape kit evidence, unanimously passed out of the Criminal Law Committee during the week.  Senate Bill 1411 would require the Illinois State Police to establish a statewide sexual assault electronic tracking system.
 
Currently, Illinois does not have a uniform system across all law enforcement to track sexual assault evidence.  In 2017, the Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking and Reporting Commission was formed to tackle this problem and improve how the state collects and tracks this vital evidence.  The Commission was a bipartisan effort, bringing together one legislator from each caucus, representatives from sexual assault organizations, law enforcement and state’s attorneys.
 
Senate Bill 1411 now heads to the Senate Floor for a full vote.
 
Senate passes Sexual Harassment Victim Representation Act
 
The Senate passed an important new protection for victims of sexual harassment in union work places on March 20.
 
Union members are entitled to representation by their union for disciplinary and grievance issues, including in cases of alleged sexual harassment.  This representation extends to both victims and accused perpetrators in sexual harassment disciplinary hearings, if both individuals are union members.  However, under current law, the union can assign the same representative to both the victim and the person or persons accused of harassment.
 
Under Senate Bill 1877, the newly created Sexual Harassment Victim Representation Act, a union is prohibited from designating the same person to represent both a victim of sexual harassment and an alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment in disciplinary proceedings.  Proponents of the bill say this is a common-sense protection for victims of sexual harassment that ensures they are represented by someone solely focused on their side of the disciplinary process.
 
Senate Bill 1877 has passed the Senate unanimously and is now headed to the House for consideration in that chamber.