Archives For General Assembly

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The abortion debate has always been emotional, but in our culture today, emotion has overtaken fact. This was on display when the Illinois House debated SB 25, what its sponsors named the Reproductive Health Act, a bill which removes limits on late-term abortions, allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions, and requires insurance companies to cover the costs of abortions. I watched debate, and ultimately the vote, from the House gallery.

In the gallery one is told to remain silent, that photography is forbidden, and not to react after votes are taken. Across from me sat protestors dressed in scarlet costumes based on the book-turned-TV series “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. On the floor, one state representative who also boasted his title of pastor, spoke for the bill and the “rights” of women including his young daughters to “choose” what they will do with their bodies. Women in the gallery nodded their heads, and quietly said, “Yes.” An elderly lady sitting next to me whispered, “I’m so tired of those men telling us what to do with our bodies.”

Another representative shared a story about a woman who already had seven children and was so desperate that she resorted to a coat hanger abortion. That was in 1948. Did we want to return to those days? she asked rhetorically. “That’s right,” women in the gallery nodded quietly. No one would have considered my argument that birth control would prevent such extreme measures. Or abstinence. Or adoption.

Debate continued with more of the same. More “yes’s” and “that’s right’s” from the gallery until I heard myself quietly say, “No.” All heads in my little section quickly turned my way. The elderly lady sitting next to me got up and left. I could take it no more and had spoken. No one in the gallery near me commented on anything after that. Soon the vote was taken. Of course, the bill passed, and the gallery erupted into applause. The steward came rushing through telling everyone the gallery was not to express emotion at the result of the vote and it was over.

Illinois lawmakers returned from their spring break poised to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use for adults. The legalization effort is supported by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who advocated it throughout his campaign and in his inaugural address.

Pritzker and other legalization supporters say marijuana would bring beneficial revenue to the state, including up to $170 million in fiscal year 2020. But others say the costs—financial and otherwise—would be much greater.

“Too many people are shrugging and saying, Will it really do any harm? Yes. Absolutely, it will,” wrote two Illinois law enforcement associations in a joint statement last year. The Illinois Chiefs of Police and Illinois Sheriffs’ Associations pointed to increased marijuana-related traffic deaths and more teens being treated for marijuana use in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2013.

Other opponents, including Illinois’ six Roman Catholic bishops, cite moral grounds for their disagreement. “As lawmakers consider this issue it is important to remember they are not only debating legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from,” the bishops said in February.

“In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens.”

Flag of Illinois State, on cannabis background

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, and 22 others, including Illinois, have legalized medical use of the drug. The legislators writing the Illinois law—Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)—hoped to unveil it during the General Assembly’s first week back. A shell of the bill, SB 7, was filed in January, but details weren’t made available prior to legislators’ spring break.

The legislation would reportedly remove previous misdemeanor marijuana convictions, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, and would provide support for minority-owned businesses within the state’s future marijuana industry. The General Assembly’s Black Caucus is a key component of the legalization push, Politico reported, but in March, the Illinois president of the NAACP spoke against the measure.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for our communities,” said Teresa Haley. “It hurts our community.”

Supporters of legalization also face opposition from some fellow lawmakers. Prior to the General Assembly’s spring break, 60 members of the Illinois House—a majority—signed on to a resolution to slow down the legalization process. The resolution’s sponsor is Rep. Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines).

“I believe more research needs to be done on the topic of legalization including hearing from experts, such as physicians,” Moylan told the Sun-Times last year, prior to his election. “I am worried about underage use as we’ve seen with alcohol. I do not want ‘normalization.’”

Other bills to watch
Mandated reporters
SB 1778, sponsored by Sen. Julie A. Morrison (D-Deerfield), amends the Abuse and Neglected Child Reporting Act to add clergy to the list of mandated reporters of abuse and neglect.

Status: The bill passed in the Senate April 10, and was assigned to the House Adoption & Child Welfare Committee April 30. Its chief sponsor in the House is Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfied).

LGBT-inclusive curriculum
In March, the Illinois House passed HB 0246, which requires public schools to include in their curriculum the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The bill’s chief sponsor in the House was Rep. Anna Moeller (D-
Elgin).

Status: The bill, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), was assigned to the Education Committee April 24.

Sports gambling legalization
The House Revenue and Finance Committee held a second hearing April 25 on legalizing sports gambling in Illinois. Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Riverside) filed a shell bill in February, but lawmakers haven’t yet introduced details of the legislation. Gov. Pritzker proposed a budget in February that includes revenue from sports betting, which is currently legal in seven states.

– State Journal-Register, Chicago Sun-Times, Politico

The BriefingBill would to legalize marijuana
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Chicago, filed an amendment to House Bill 2353 on March 22 that revises the state’s Cannabis Control Act, making a number of sweeping changes “[i]n the interest of allowing law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes, generating revenue for education and other purposes, and individual freedom.” These changes allowing the recreational use of marijuana include regulating it the same as alcohol and  legalizing the possession of 28 grams of the substance.

Bill would simplify changing gender on birth certificates
A proposal that would make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity has cleared an initial hurdle. House Bill 1785 approved by the House Human Services Committee, says a birth certificate could be changed if a medical or mental health provider confirms someone has received “clinically appropriate” treatment. Current Illinois law says transgender people can only change the sex listed on their birth certificates if a doctor transition surgery has been performed.

Student sues school over girl in boys’ locker room
A high school junior is suing his Boyertown, Pa., school district after administrators told him he could either “tolerate” having a biological female share his locker room or withdraw and be homeschooled. The lawsuit filed in federal court calls on the district to rescind its secretly implemented policy granting transgender students access to the private facilities of their choice.

Princeton Seminary reverses decision to honor Keller
Princeton Seminary, the flagship institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), had announced Tim Keller, bestselling author and pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, as the recipient of its Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, a $10,000 award. But in a March 22 letter to the seminary community, President Craig Barnes said the decision had been reversed in order to “not imply any endorsement” of Keller’s “belief that women and [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] persons should not be ordained.”

President Trump to give commencement address at Liberty University
President Donald Trump will give his first commencement address as president at Liberty University, the evangelical college led Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell, the son of the prominent televangelist, was one of Trump’s most vocal supporters among evangelical Protestant leaders during the 2016 presidential campaign. At Liberty, student reaction to the announcement was mixed.

Sources: Illinois Policy, Chicago Tribune, World Magazine, Baptist Press, Washington Post