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Stalled bills: ‘Dignity in Pay Act,’ Prisoner Review Board changes fail to move

Construction vehicles are pictured outside of the Illinois State Capitol last month.
Capitol News Illinois photo by Andrew Adams
Construction vehicles are pictured outside of the Illinois State Capitol last month.

A bill eliminating the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities failed to pass the General Assembly ahead of its May adjournment, although sponsors say they hope to pass it when lawmakers return in the fall.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established minimum wage law, but created an exemption for businesses, rehabilitation and residential care facilities to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage if they obtain a special certificate permitted in Section 14(c) of the law. The measure would have given providers more than 5 years to stop using 14(c) certificates in Illinois.

Although the bill ultimately advanced out of the House 78-30 with bipartisan support, it was never called for a vote in the Senate.

In a written statement for Capitol News Illinois, bill sponsor Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, said she is continuing conversations with House colleagues and advocates of the measure. She said 14(c) certificates leave behind workers with disabilities.

“Other states have recognized this and put an end to the practice,” Castro said. “It’s time we join them.”

The measure could come for a vote during the veto or lame duck session later this year.

Read more: Illinois could be 19th state to phase out subminimum wage for disabled workers

The measure has been negotiated for more than 5 years, and late amendments were added to it in an effort to draw bipartisan support.

“I think that, you know, the process is ongoing, and we just have to be patient,” bill sponsor Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, said following the measure stalling. It followed a similar arc last year, stalling in the final stretch after sponsors announced they had an agreement.

This year’s measure would have codified a transition grant program aimed at providing financial aid to organizations shifting away from 14(c) sheltered workshops. The Illinois Department of Human Services budget included $2 million for the current fiscal year, and another $2 million was to be allocated moving forward as well.

It also would have included more 14(c) certificate holders and representatives from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities on an existing task force aimed at ensuring a smooth transition for certificate holders.

The Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities advocated in favor of the amended legislation this year after initially opposing ending 14(c) participation in Illinois. Advocates, including Mah, said eliminating the certificates would build upon rights for people with disabilities by removing one barrier they face when entering the workforce and seeking higher-paying and more rewarding employment.

But opponents said eliminating the certificates without enough of a ramp could force those with high support needs out of the workforce entirely.

Prisoner Review Board changes

Changes to the state’s Prisoner Review Board seemed well on the way to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk until an early-morning scramble to pass a budget-related bill on the House’s final day of session preempted a vote in that chamber.

“We as leaders and lawmakers had an obligation to take action,” bill sponsor Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, wrote to Capitol News Illinois after the bill failed to pass. “Instead, we abandoned victims, once again.”

House Bill 681 was brought to the Statehouse following a pair of resignations from the PRB, which faced criticism after the board approved early release of Crosetti Brand – who then fatally stabbed 11-year-old Jayden Perkins while attacking his former partner and Perkins’ mother, Laterria Smith.

Read more: Prisoner Review Board chair, member resign in wake of boy’s fatal stabbing by released inmate | Amid controversy at Prisoner Review Board, Pritzker calls for more training as GOP again seeks reform

The measure would have subjected PRB case hearings to open meetings laws, mandated more training and created a task force to oversee the board. It also would have required the board to publish information on its website to direct survivors of violent crimes on how to submit an oral or written victim impact statement.

HB 681, which passed previous legislative hurdles without opposition, would also require the PRB to inform survivors of an individual’s early release within 24 hours, should the survivor have an order of protection or request to be notified.

Cassidy said during a committee hearing that the governor's office expressed concern that a late Senate amendment went too far in requiring livestreaming of certain meetings. At a news conference the morning after session adjourned, Pritzker said he was fine with parts of the bill but still had serious pause.

“Some aspects of it, frankly, are just unacceptable,” he said. “It's not about transparency, to be honest with you. It's about what's actually possible, what's doable.”

He also was concerned about how funding was absent from the bill.

Cassidy wrote the bill’s creation of an almost 30-person task force to oversee the PRB could have helped address the concerns the governor shared.

The task force would be comprised of state agency directors and representatives, domestic and gender-based violence advocates, and four members of the Illinois General Assembly – chosen by majority and minority leaders in both chambers.

“We should be convening that task force this summer and doing the detailed work that two weeks at the end of session can’t accomplish,” she wrote. “Instead, we have to wait until we reconvene in the fall to try again to make meaningful and lasting change that will actually make us safer.”

Medical release hearings

House Bill 5396, which would change how the Prisoner Review Board handles medical release hearings, made it through the House but didn’t pass the Senate before adjournment Sunday.

The bill would amend the Joe Coleman Medical Release Act, which took effect in 2022, clarifying a petitioner’s rights during medical release hearings and requiring the PRB to publish a decision letter outlining their reasons for denial.

Read more: Capitol Briefs: Expansion of postpartum coverage, ban on kangaroos among hundreds of measures to pass House

The bill previously passed the House 72-34 in April but was never assigned to a substantive committee in the Senate.

Karina’s Bill, homicide reporting

Lawmakers once again declined to pass a measure known as “Karina’s Bill,” which would change the state’s order of protection laws.

Read more: Advocates renew push to tighten firearm laws aimed at protecting domestic violence victims

The bill is named after Karina Gonzalez, who was killed along with her daughter in Chicago in 2023. Gonzalez’s husband, Jose Alvarez, allegedly shot them while having an order of protection against him for a previous domestic violence incident.

Karina’s Bill would require law enforcement to confiscate firearms when an emergency order of protection is granted with a firearm remedy. It would also require a judge to issue a search warrant in cases where the remedy is granted, provided the judge finds there is probable cause that the individual possesses a firearm and is a threat to the victim.

The proposal would also prohibit gun owners from transferring firearms to another individual instead of surrendering them to law enforcement along with their Firearm Owner’s Identification, or FOID, card.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence have long been calling for the change, which this year was contained in House Bill 4469 and Senate Bill 2633.

Neither bill cleared a substantive committee this year, signifying they were never close to passage.

Eliminating the tip wage credit

House Bill 5345, a proposal to eliminate the tip wage credit at the state level, was sent back to the Rules Committee in the House – a procedural step indicating it wasn’t close to passage.

Under current law, the minimum wage is $14 per hour but a tipped employee can be paid $8.40 an hour if their tips bring them to $14. If they do not receive enough tips then their employer is required to make up the difference.

Read more: Bill ending state’s tipped wage advances but prospects uncertain amid pushback

Proponents, including the One Fair Wage advocacy organization and several legislators, have said that eliminating the tip wage credit will help solve systemic issues of poverty and harassment. Opponents such as the Illinois Restaurant Association say that repealing the tip credit will force owners to raise prices, cut hours and benefits, and potentially lay off staff.

Bill sponsor Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, D-Cicero, said at a news conference in May that she will continue to work on the bill in the coming months.

Threats to libraries

House Bill 4567, an initiative of Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who under law also serves as state librarian, would treat threats made against libraries the same as a threat made to schools.

The measure also would have made clear that state library grants can be used for safety upgrades.

People found guilty of threatening libraries could face a disorderly conduct charge under the bill, which cleared the House 89-20 in late May. Although the Senate did not consider the measure before adjourning, it could still take up the bill when lawmakers return in the fall.

Giannoulias said in an April news release that it was spurred by several bomb threats made to libraries in Illinois.

Junk fees

The Junk Fee Ban Act, proposed in House Bill 4629, passed the House 71-35 in April and later cleared a Senate committee unanimously, but it never made it to the floor for a vote.

The bill would remove back-end hidden fees by requiring companies to show customers the full price of any goods or services. Bill sponsor Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, previously described junk fees as “hidden, deceptive, predatory fees.”

Read more: Capitol Briefs: Expansion of postpartum coverage, ban on kangaroos among hundreds of measures to pass House

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Cole is a graduate student reporter enrolled in the Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS.