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Abortion, book bans among issues addressed by legislature

SPRINGFIELD — While failing to get a budget done by its self-imposed deadline, the Illinois General Assembly passed measures addressing issues ranging from abortion rights to full-day kindergarten during its spring session, which this week goes into overtime.

It was the first full session since the November election, when Democrats won victories in every constitutional office and expanded their overall supermajority in the General Assembly. Despite the single-party control, legislators didn’t complete their work Friday as scheduled and will reconvene Wednesday to get back to work on a spending plan that became complicated by the spiraling costs of a health care program for immigrants.

Here’s a look at some of the bills heading to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

Under pressure to further protect abortion rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal last year of Roe v. Wade, lawmakers passed a measure aimed at preventing anti-abortion pregnancy centers from employing deceptive practices in an effort to dissuade women from seeking the procedure.

Also sometimes known as “crisis pregnancy centers,” these anti-abortion nonprofits operate across the country and often open near or even next to clinics where abortions take place. The bill allows the Illinois attorney general to investigate claims that a pregnancy center engaged in fraud, deception or false pretense, and centers that violate the law could be fined up to $50,000.

Beginning with the 2027-28 school year, Illinois school districts would be required to offer a full day of kindergarten, pending a signature from Pritzker. “Full-day kindergarten benefits all parties, giving children more time to learn, teachers more time to educate, and working parents more accessible and affordable sources of child care,” said state Rep. Mary Beth Canty, a Democrat from Arlington Heights and the bill’s main House sponsor.

The measure would leave districts the option to also provide half-day kindergarten.

Some of the bills passed by the Democratic legislature dealt with issues that have been fronts in culture wars nationwide.

Multiple-occupancy public restrooms could be labeled or converted to all-gender use under one measure, although that would not be mandatory for businesses or other establishments. Facilities taking that route would be required to have floor-to-ceiling stall dividers in each stall with locking mechanisms, trash cans in each stall, a baby-changing station and other features, under the legislation.

Several Senate Republicans decried the legislation before the chamber passed the bill by a 35-20 vote last week. State Sen. Neil Anderson said he’d likely lose it if his 10-year-old daughter ever wound up sharing a public bathroom with a man.

“I’m telling you right now, if a guy walks in there, I’m gonna beat the living piss out of him,” said Anderson, of Andalusia.

Before the House followed up with a 63-41 vote, sending the measure to Pritzker’s desk, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, responded to Anderson’s remarks.

“Quite frankly, what happened yesterday in this building, when one of our colleagues threatened physical violence as a result of this bill, that is what we should be concerned about,” said Cassidy, who is openly gay. “That is what puts people at risk. That is putting my community in danger.”

A bill that would allow the Illinois secretary of state’s office to deny grant funding to public and school libraries if they ban books is also on Pritzker’s desk. The measure came amid nationwide polarization over censorship, school curricula and how much say parents should have over what content is appropriate for children.

Other measures from the secretary of state’s office include legislation barring police from stopping motorists solely because they have small items such as air fresheners dangling from their vehicle’s rearview mirror, as well as a ban on videoconferencing calls such as over Zoom while driving.

There were also bills focused on drug overdose prevention that were supported by both sides of the aisle.

Two bills would increase access to drug-testing supplies, including those for the powerful opioid fentanyl, and a third would require that school districts provide instruction about the dangers of the drug. Another bill mandates schools to maintain a supply of an opioid antagonist like Narcan.

Fentanyl is seen as a major culprit for an increase of over 2,700% in synthetic opioid deaths in the state from 2013 to 2020, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Another bipartisan bill would cap the maximum amount an insurance company can charge for a month of insulin to $35, down from a maximum of $100 that was set in 2020. The bill would take effect July 1, 2025, if signed by Pritzker.

Lawmakers also approved a measure that would require all state-funded affordable housing to have air conditioning, a bill prompted by the heat exposure deaths in May 2022 of three seniors in their apartments on Chicago’s Far North Side.

The legislature also approved a measure intended to make it easier for Chicago’s first responders to acquire full benefits if they suffered long-term disability because of the COVID-19 virus. The legislation, already signed into law by Pritzker, was pushed by state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, whose police officer brother was infected with the virus and fell badly ill, but was denied full disability benefits by the Policemen’s Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago.

Late Thursday, progressives ushered through a bill that amends the Wrongful Death Act, opening the door for punitive damages to be sought in wrongful death cases, with some exceptions including actions against state and units of local government.

The Illinois Department of Human Services under new legislation would be authorized to collect data to determine how frequently a government-funded program that provides food for low-income households is defrauded. Beginning in January, the agency would be required to report how often benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are stolen annually amid many concerns about identity theft.

Legislators also passed a bill that would allow recipients of a federal immigration program to become police officers. The measure was amended to make it clear that potential hires need to get federal approval to carry a gun. The measure codifies that noncitizens who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program may apply to become police officers in Illinois, though currently there would likely be obstacles for such officers to carry the guns off-duty without a revision to federal law.

Supporters of the bill have cited the legislation as another avenue to beef up recruitment of law enforcement within police departments in Illinois.

Anyone in Illinois who engages in doxxing — sharing personal identifiable information about another person for the purpose of harming or harassing that person — could be found civilly liable, under another piece of legislation.

This could include sharing the information with knowledge or reckless disregard that the person whose information is shared publicly “would be reasonably likely to suffer death, bodily injury, or stalking.”

Also subject to civil damages under new legislation could be anyone found to have altered images of someone else in a sexually explicit manner, a practice referred to colloquially as “deepfake porn.”

The measure, called the Digital Forgeries Act, could grant plaintiffs financial relief in such lawsuits if it’s found the persons falsely depicted suffered “harm from the intentional dissemination” of the images without their permission.

Another technology-related bill would require that content creators who have lucrative family blogs to set up a trust fund to compensate children for their time on camera.

Ride-share giants Uber and Lyft will now be on par with taxis when it comes to the liability of their drivers. The bill, if signed into law, would end an exemption in January that shielded ride-share companies from the common carrier civil liability doctrine. The exemption holds transportation companies, like taxis, to a higher standard by requiring them to be held liable for the conduct of their drivers.

With the Democratic National Convention coming to Chicago next year, Uber earlier this month warned the Democratic National Committee and then-Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson that the measure could lead to higher costs for riders and a reduced number of drivers due to greater insurance requirements.

Legislators approved a measure that would call for the solicitation of plans for a new cargo-focused airport in Chicago’s south suburbs. The bill, which faced some Democratic opposition in the Senate, is part of a decadeslong discussion over whether a new airport should be built in Peotone.

Complaints about the CTA have multiplied since the pandemic, and a bill headed to Pritzker’s desk would allow the Chicago Transit Board to adopt rules that result in the “suspension of riding privileges” and confiscation of fare cards and other forms of punishment to be employed against problematic riders who commit acts including sexual assault, battery and public indecency.

The bill also provides free and reduced fares to young riders in career-oriented programs, grants 25,000 transit cards worth $20 each to domestic violence and sexual assault service providers to assist victims, and says that by July 1, 2026, CTA, Pace and Metra should purchase only zero-emission buses.

Tribune reporter Dan Petrella contributed

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