The 103rd General Assembly is more than halfway through the spring 2023 Legislative Session. Lawmakers have so far introduced more than 5,000 new bills, with a few hundred of those bills clearing the House. Lawmakers are back home in their districts for a two-week spring break. The House returns to Session on Tuesday, April 18.
Friday, March 24, 2023, marked the end of what is known as 3rd Reading Deadline week in the House, meaning all substantive House Bills not related to the budget must pass the House. That shortened deadline meant the rush was on to get bills moved before the end of Session on Friday, and that rush led to some interesting and disturbing developments.
As the House Republican Floor Leader, it is my responsibility to question sponsors of legislation and help direct floor debate and questions coming from the Republican side of the aisle. Debates can be simple, where I ask perfunctory and parliamentary questions and inquire about opposition from advocacy groups. Debate on controversial bills can oftentimes be more complicated, with several members of the House asking any particular sponsor questions about their bills.
The last two weeks of Session have seen so many bills pass that detailing them all would be nearly impossible to do in limited space. However, I do have some notes from some of the more controversial bills to share with you. Here’s my quick rundown of 3rd Reading Week floor action and a ‘mid-session’ review. Thanks for reading!
Puppy on the lap ban fails. Legislation that would have created a new fine of $50 for any motorist caught with their pet on their lap while driving failed by a wide margin. The bill went down with only 6 yes votes to 97 no votes. I voted NO.
To-go containers spark debate. Two bills dealing with to-go food containers made their way through the House last week. HB 2086 would allow, in some cases, restaurant customers to bring their own to-go containers to pack up leftovers after dining. Another bill, HB 2376 states that beginning January 1, 2025, Illinois retail establishments may not sell or distribute disposable food service containers composed in any way of polystyrene foam, or styrofoam. I voted NO on both of these bills.
State library grants at risk after bill to pull grants for banning books passes House on bipartisan vote. HB 2789 would put grants for local and school libraries at risk in certain cases. The bill’s sponsor claimed that libraries across Illinois are ‘banning books’ when in reality the ‘book bans’ she claims are happening are actually librarians deciding against placing sexually age-inappropriate materials in children’s sections of libraries. I have long believed that local control is best in these cases. I do not believe the state should be threatening local and school libraries with the loss of funding for simply exercising decision-making that prioritizes the wishes of the local community. The bill passed, but I voted NO.
Tamms Supermax Prison Repurposing Task Force. My colleague State Rep. Paul Jacobs passed HB 3276, a bill that would create a task force charged with studying the best way forward for repurposing the shuttered former supermax prison facility. The $71 million facility currently sits empty, while the State of Illinois could use it for a multitude of purposes. The General Assembly is supposed to receive a report from the task force with its recommendations by the end of the year.
State symbols designations. A couple of bills that would create new designations for state symbols passed the House. First, HB 2840 would designate the Black Walnut as the official State nut. Lawmakers passed the bill with an overwhelming majority. The soybean would be designated as the state bean under HB 3817. That legislation has also passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.
Combatting the fentanyl crisis. Last week, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation sponsored by House Republican Leader Tony McCombie to combat Illinois’ fentanyl epidemic and save lives.
McCombie’s bill, HB 3203, allows pharmacists and retail stores to sell potentially life-saving fentanyl test strips over the counter. Currently, test strips are classified as drug paraphernalia, which has made it impossible to make progress on identifying fentanyl in other drugs. The test strips will be able to identify if fentanyl is present in any drug, which is essential considering only a small dose (only 2 milligrams) of fentanyl can have fatal consequences. Soaring death rates associated with Illinois drug use are strongly associated with fentanyl. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that in 2021, the most recent year for which numbers have been collated, there were 3,013 fatalities due to opioid overdoses in Illinois. These Illinois death numbers were up more than 38% from the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
Bill supporting veteran-owned small businesses passes House. House Bill 2288, updates the Illinois Procurement Code so veteran-owned small businesses are more able to compete for state contracts. the number of veteran-owned small businesses who qualify for the Veterans Business Program had fallen to only 15% of previously eligible businesses by FY21. To improve eligibility for the program, HB 2288 increases the limit for a business’s annual gross sales to less than $150 million, rather than less than $75 million as established back in 2011. The change reflects the increase in construction prices of 50-70% that has taken place since 2011. The bill passed unanimously.
Many other bills have passed the House, and now the Senate, which I will be helping to inform you about in the coming weeks. The House is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, May 19. Before adjourning, the House will take up legislation passed over from the Senate and will have to pass a budget for Fiscal Year 2024. To find out more about schedules, committee hearings, and bills that are moving through the legislature, please visit www.ilga.gov or follow along on my webpage at RepWindhorst.com. It is my honor and privilege to serve as your State Representative. May God Bless you and your family this Easter season.