Senate Week in Review: May 17-21, 2021

SPRINGFIELD — Senate Republicans took a stand against government corruption during the week and called for the passage of comprehensive ethics reform legislation.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed new, controversial sex education standards for grades K-12, despite strong opposition by Republicans.

New guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) means fully-vaccinated Illinoisans can remove their masks in most settings.

Additionally, budget negotiations started to pick up at the Capitol and Republicans are demanding the removal of proposed costly tax hikes and fees on Illinois businesses.

In other news, the first woman to be elected as Illinois’ Lieutenant Governor passed away after her long battle with breast cancer.

Senate Republicans file comprehensive ethics reform legislation

On May 17, the Senate Republican Caucus unveiled a comprehensive ethics reform package designed to hold politicians accountable and give law enforcement more tools to combat public corruption.

The newly filed legislation (Senate Bill 1350) comes after weeks of delays on passing meaningful ethics reform measures. Senate Republicans noted that time is running out this legislative session and stressed the need to root out government corruption.

Senate Bill 1350 would:

  • Allow the Attorney General to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate, indict and prosecute bribery and misconduct by members of the General Assembly;
  • Authorize state’s attorneys to use wiretaps to investigate crimes of public corruption;
  • Grant the Legislative Inspector General the ability to investigate members of the General Assembly without first receiving approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission;
  • Ban legislators from lobbying other branches of state government or units of local government for compensation;
  • Require legislators to wait one year after leaving office, or until the end of the current term (whichever is longer) before they can become a lobbyist;
  • Prohibit a legislator from leaving office and continuing to use their campaign fund to support lobbying activities; and
  • Update the Statement of Economic Interests to enhance the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) says the only way that Illinois lawmakers can begin to rebuild the public’s trust is to pass meaningful ethics reform that will truly address the ongoing corruption that continues to plague the state.

Budget talks start to heat up

As the spring legislative session approaches its end, budget talks have begun to pick up steam at the Capitol.

While negotiations are ongoing, Stewart is calling for the removal of tax hikes on businesses that Gov. JB Pritzker proposed in his February Budget Address.

Since the Budget Address, the state has added $3 billion in unexpected revenues between Fiscal Years 2021 and 2022. Additionally, the federal government passed a federal relief package that will provide the state with another $8 billion.

Stewart says that businesses, through no fault of their own, were forced to close their doors and undergo tremendous financial stress during COVID-19. Stewart added that any tax increase on businesses should be completely off the table.

Controversial sex education curriculum passes the Senate 

On May 20, the Senate passed Senate Bill 818, a controversial bill that would rewrite existing state standards for sex education in grades K-12.

Stewart says he strongly opposes the legislation and voted against it.

The legislation would significantly limit local control over sexual education by requiring school districts to either teach the new standards as written or nothing at all. These standards were formulated by advocacy groups from outside of the state, many of which are considered divisive.

Some of the contentious provisions that can be found in Senate Bill 818 include:

  • Requiring kindergarten students to be taught about consent;
  • Requiring second-grade students to define consent, reproduction, and gender identity, as well as identify different types of families, including cohabitating and same-gender;
  • By fifth grade, students would be required to describe the role of hormone blockers, to distinguish between the sex assigned at birth and gender identity, define and explain differences between cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, gender expansive, and gender identity, and to be able to articulate that gender expression and identity exist along a spectrum;
  • Language that deemphasizes that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent STIs and pregnancy; and
  • Requiring course materials to include local resources for reproductive health (including abortion providers), and prohibiting any instruction or materials in the classroom, including guest lectures, which might conflict with the provisions of the bill.

The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

One step closer to normalcy

Following the CDC’s latest guidance, the State of Illinois has updated its Executive Orders and repealed emergency orders regarding face coverings. As a result of these changes, fully-vaccinated Illinoisans are able to once again gather in most indoor and outdoor settings without wearing a mask.

Under the new guidelines, fully-vaccinated people can:

  • Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance;
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel, or self-quarantine after travel;
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States;
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings;
  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic; and
  • Refrain from routine screening testing, if feasible.

Face-covering requirements are still in effect for vaccinated individuals when they are in a healthcare setting, congregated area, and using public transportation. Additionally, masks are still required to be worn at Illinois schools and daycares.

Furthermore, the repeal of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s emergency rules regarding face coverings means Illinois businesses are no longer responsible for their enforcement; however, businesses have the option to set policies requiring their use.

Illinois’ first female Lieutenant Governor passes away after cancer battle

In 1999, Corinne J. Wood was elected as Illinois’ first female Lieutenant Governor, serving until 2003.

In her role as Lieutenant Governor, she was a champion for women’s health. She tripled funding for the Illinois Office of Women’s Health, expanded mammogram screenings for low income women, and launched a “Check for a Cure” program, which raised more than $2 million for cancer research.

Wood began her public service career as a member of the House of Representatives from 1997 to 1999.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1990s and ultimately passed away from the disease on May 18.