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Stalled bills include repeal of subminimum wage for disabled workers, BIPA reform

State Rep. Theresa Mah (center, D-Chicago) speaks to a House committee in the final week of the spring legislative session. She is sponsoring a bill that would end the practice of allowing some employers to pay disabled individuals less than the minimum wage.
Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
State Rep. Theresa Mah (center, D-Chicago) speaks to a House committee in the final week of the spring legislative session. She is sponsoring a bill that would end the practice of allowing some employers to pay disabled individuals less than the minimum wage.

Several measure could be revived in legislature’s fall veto session

While hundreds of bills cleared the General Assembly in the final month of the legislative session, some big-ticket measures will have to wait until at least the fall.

Sponsors of several stalled bills say they will consider reviving their proposals when lawmakers return to the Capitol in October and November for their annual veto session. Below is a look at some of the bills that didn’t pass in the regular session and whether they’re likely to come back up for a vote.

Subminimum wage: State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, led a late push to prohibit Illinois businesses from participating in a federal program that allows them to pay individuals with disabilities below the minimum wage. It came just short of passing, although Mah says she has the votes to pass it in the fall.

The measure would have set a July 1, 2027, end date for Illinois businesses to participate in the subminimum wage program under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. That program allows employers of individuals with disabilities to obtain a certificate allowing them to pay less than the state and federal minimum wage. Advocates say a review of state records shows some certificate holders have paid wages lower than $1 per hour.

According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, there are about 4,000 individuals employed under the program in Illinois and about 80 businesses have received certificates. Once the program ends, those workers would be subject to the statewide minimum wage.

The measure would also create a transition grant fund to support employer wage subsidies and other efforts to ensure a smooth transition and continued employment for disabled individuals.

Mah said the bill represented an agreement between IDHS and a trade group representing facilities that employ disabled individuals that was finalized late in the legislative process. But due to the crazed pace of the final week of session and attendance issues on the House floor, Mah said the measure fell just short of the 60 votes needed to pass.

“We kind of ran out of time during the last three days of session,” Mah told Capitol News Illinois.

She said while she has the votes to pass the measure in the veto session, the effective dates of some of the bill’s provisions might have to be pushed back due to a constitutional requirement that a bill must pass with three-fifths majorities to have an immediate effective date after May 31.

Mah initially pushed for ending subminimum wage for disabled individuals in 2019, an effort advocates said would help Illinois “get right with history.” It stalled that year but again gained steam after Gov. JB Pritzker signed an executive order in October 2021 preventing the state from entering into contracts with entities that pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage.

The bill’s proponents noted the 2027 end date would create a four-year window for an existing state task force to determine the best path forward for distributing subsidies from the grant fund and minimizing disruption for employed individuals. The bill would expand that task force to add more representatives of disability care providers affected by the end of subminimum wage.

It also would increase a state- and federal-funded “personal needs allowance” for individuals living in a Community Integrated Living Arrangement to $100 from $60 monthly.

Biometric privacy: Another stalled measure would have made changes to the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, a 2008 law that allows individuals to sue companies over improper collection or storage of information such as fingerprints or facial scans.

Senate Democrats filed language to alter BIPA in an amendment to House Bill 3811 on what was scheduled to be the final day of the spring session before it was extended, immediately drawing criticisms from business groups.

In the last five years, upwards of 2,000 lawsuits have been filed under BIPA, followed by several high-dollar settlements. Those legal developments, in addition to a series of Illinois Supreme Court decisions interpreting BIPA’s limits in ways that favor aggrieved parties, have worried the business community.

Fast food chain White Castle, the defendant in one of the two BIPA-related cases decided by the state’s high court in February, claims the court’s ruling could cost the company $17 billion – a figure that businesses warn could bankrupt entire industries. The court in that case found that claims could accrue for each violation of BIPA, meaning every individual finger or facial scan would constitute a separate violation of the law.

The opinion did, however, “respectfully suggest” the General Assembly review BIPA “and make clear its intent regarding the assessment of damages under the Act.”

In response, the late-session amendment would have stipulated that “the same biometric identifier from the same person using the same method of collection has created a single violation,” but business groups said the language was too vague.

They also assailed the proposed fine increase for negligent violations from $1,000 to $1,500 and decried the addition of another type of biometric data to the law – electronic signatures – as a giveaway to trial lawyers.

After business groups balked at the proposal, Senate Democratic leaders agreed to hold off on the bill pending further negotiations, meaning the high court’s suggestions will go unheeded at least until the fall veto session.

Human composting: House Bill 3158 would have legalized and regulated “natural organic reduction,” a process also known as human composting or terramation in which human remains are rapidly decomposed into compost.

The process turns human remains into dirt over the course of several weeks by heating a person’s remains in a vessel with wood chips, straw and other organic material to accelerate the growth of microbes that break down the body. This is distinct from “natural burial,” in which a body is buried with no casket or in a biodegradable container.

The measure passed the House 63-38 on March 24 and was later discussed in a subject matter hearing in the Senate. But it never received a committee vote or consideration by the full Senate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said she will continue to push for its passage, but she did not have a specific timeline for when it may be considered.

“We had been working on the bill in the House for a couple of years, so folks were a little more familiar with it,” she said in an email statement. “This is a whole new topic for the Senate, and between that unfamiliarity and the dishonest arguments of the opposition, we need to spend time having those direct conversations with members of that chamber and get their questions answered.”

Cannabis car search: Senate Bill 125 would have ensured that the smell of “burnt or raw cannabis in a motor vehicle” cannot alone be probable cause for an individual’s vehicle to be searched if the driver is 21 years of age or older.

The measure passed 33-20 in the Senate on March 30 but faced opposition from law enforcement groups and never came to a vote in the House.

Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, said the measure may be revisited in the fall veto session with other cannabis-related measures, but multiple pending state court cases are already centered on the issue, so it might not need to be decided by the legislature.

The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases pertaining to the issue, with two of the cases being consolidated. Two of the cases out of the 3rd District Appellate Court ruled that the smell of cannabis cannot alone be probable cause to pull a vehicle over. The 4th District Appellate Court came to the opposite ruling.

“We’re allowing the courts to take their view on it,” Ventura said.

Ventura said she’s hoping the Illinois Supreme Court rules in favor of protecting against searches based on the smell of cannabis, but she’s willing to bring the bill back in the fall if needed.

“I’m hoping not to go that route. I’m very hopeful that the courts will rule in the direction of the 3rd (District) Appellate Court,” Ventura said.

Corruption convictions: House Bill 351 would have barred anyone convicted of a felony, bribery, perjury or misuse of public funds while serving as a public official from ever being elected to a state or local office again.

The bill would have allowed exceptions for people whose convictions have been reversed or pardoned, or if they’ve received a restoration of rights. It also calls for setting up a task force to review current policies and make recommendations for disqualifying offenses.

Current law bars anyone convicted of a felony from holding a state office until they’ve completed their sentence and a provision of the Illinois Municipal Code bars anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony from holding an elected municipal office. But those people are free to run for the General Assembly, governor or any other constitutional office once they’ve completed their sentence.

While the measure passed unanimously in the House and cleared Senate committee 12-0, it never received a vote in the full Senate.

A spokesperson for Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said he plans to call it for a vote in the veto session.

Government electric vehicles: Senate Bill 1769 would have required all passenger vehicles purchased by the state to be “zero-emission” by 2030, meaning they produce no greenhouse gases. The bill exempts law enforcement vehicles and vehicles bought by the Department of Transportation as part of a consolidated procurement.

It initially passed the Senate in mid-May on a 33-20 vote but was later amended in the House, passing 69-35 on May 25. It never came back to the Senate for a final vote.

“I’m being told this will be heard in veto session,” Ventura said, noting that her discussions with legislative staff are ongoing.

‘Rainy day’ fund: Comptroller Susana Mendoza pushed for House Bill 2515, a bill requiring automatic deposits in the “rainy day” and pension stabilization funds when revenue projections exceed the prior year’s estimate by at least 4 percent and the state has less than $3 billion in bills awaiting payment.

While that bill cleared a House committee unanimously in March, it never came to a vote in either chamber. Mendoza’s office said she would continue to push for the measure.

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.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.