Illinois Makes Bold Progress in Addressing Systemic Injustice

Historic criminal justice legislation moves to governor's desk, other economic measures advance racial justice

As Illinois legislators convened for the 2021 lame duck session, the Shriver Center on Poverty Law advocated for laws and policies that would end unfair practices in the criminal legal system, ensure economic stability, and eliminate biases and injustices in the healthcare system.  

Under the leadership of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, the Illinois legislature ushered in innovative and proven measures to not only address long-standing disparities but fuel opportunity and improve quality of lives. And in a historic move, Illinois legislators also elected Representative Chris Welch as its first-ever Black Speaker of the House.  

After a monumental, five-day legislative session, Illinois emerges with bold progress in the fight for economic and racial justice. We thank Illinois legislators for advancing these critical policies. Here are the gains achieved during this session:

Historic Progress in Criminal Legal System Reform

HB 3653 – Criminal Justice Bill. One of the most significant wins this session was the passage of a major policing and criminal justice reform bill that responds to decades of injustice for Black communities and communities of color in Illinois. Within the legislation, the Pre-Trial Fairness Act makes Illinois the only state to completely end the use of money bond. The use of money bonds in the Illinois court system has meant that access to money becomes the deciding factor in determining whether someone remains in jail before the outcome of their case. People should not stay in jail because they lack access to wealth. This bill will alleviate the financial burden money bonds put on families and accused people. Also included in this major package are measures that modernize the felony murder rule, require people detained by the police access to phone calls, reform police practices, and prohibit future license suspensions based on unpaid traffic, red light, and speed camera violations while eliminating current suspensions for the same types of tickets.

Ensuring Economic Stability

SB 1480 – Amendments to the Equal Pay Act and Employee Background Fairness Act. In an important move for justice-involved individuals, employment discrimination based on a conviction record will now be a civil rights violation under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The bill also increases employment equity in Illinois by providing a remedy for individuals who have been discriminated against because of a conviction record, other than solely through the courts. And, to help close the gender, racial, and ethnic wage gaps, the Equal Pay Act was amended to require employers with more than 100 employees to submit to the Illinois Department of Labor every two years the wages, gender, race and ethnicity of each employee. 

SB 1980 – Public Housing Access. Improving equity and access to affordable housing for individuals with criminal records, this legislation will create standards for Illinois public housing authorities to use in the criminal background screening process. This legislation will also limit public housing authorities from considering non-convictions, expunged or sealed records, and juvenile records; shorten look-back periods for consideration of criminal records; and provide applicants with an opportunity to present mitigating circumstances before being denied housing because of their background. 

SB 1792 – Anti-Predatory Lending Protections. Predatory lending practices drive people further into debt and widen the racial wealth gap. New legislation will prohibit lenders from charging an annual interest rate that exceeds 36 percent on consumer loans, including payday and car title loans.  

SB 1608 – Commitment to Economic Equity & Investments for Black Communities. Two new commissions focused on equity for Black Illinoisans will be created. The African Descent-Citizens Reparations Commission, to be established within the Department of Central Management Services (CMS), will develop and implement measures to ensure equity and equality by preserving Black neighborhoods and communities through investment in business development, home ownership, and affordable housing, development of a Vocational Training Center, and ensuring proportional economic representation in all state contracts. The Commission on Equity and Inclusion will have a role in all state and university procurement.  

SB 1510 – Healthcare Transformation. A new healthcare transformation program will be created under the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). During fiscal years 2021 through 2027, the program will allocate an annual funding pool of up to $150 million, pending federal matching dollars. Funds will be allocated to groups who meet several criteria, with a focus on increasing access to Medicaid and uninsured populations, as well as improving health equity. The plan also requires HFS to create a workgroup to review and provide recommendations on how the agency and healthcare transformation can improve health disparities and the impact of these disparities on communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The group will consider and make recommendations on a community safety-net designation of certain hospitals, and a regional partnership to bring additional specialty services to communities and racial equity. 

As we celebrate these wins, we also call out the work that remains to advance crucial housing protections and healthcare reforms. We urge legislators to revisit these issues and further build upon an agenda of equity and long-term support for struggling communities.

Emergency Housing and Eviction Protections 

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn, renters and homeowners need protection from losing their housing. The COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act (SB 3066, HA7) passed the House with bipartisan support, but the Senate did not act on the bill before adjourning. We will continue working to pass the eviction sealing and other provisions as soon as possible in 2021.

Healthcare Reforms 

The proposed Healthcare omnibus bill contained language that would have made doula services eligible for coverage under Medicaid. Doulas are non-medical professionals who focus on prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care. The omnibus bill also included implicit bias training for medical professionals. Though the Healthcare omnibus bill did not make it past the finish line, we will keep working this year on these and other healthcare reforms.

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law will continue to push its agenda for economic and racial justice and fight for equity for Illinois’ communities. 

Sign our petition to support economic and racial justice in the face of COVID-19 and stay connected for other opportunities to reach your legislators and champion these important measures.

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We fight for policies and laws that strengthen communities and disrupt the harms caused by the criminal legal system.

Our laws and policies must support people by ensuring fair work at a living wage and by providing the income supports families need to be successful.

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