By AARON GETTINGER
It was a busy first session for freshman Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), who was appointed to the seat in January after his predecessor, Kwame Raoul, resigned to become Illinois Attorney General.
Peters introduced four Senate bills and he was the chief Senate co-sponsor of nine House bills and a House resolution, all of which passed both houses.
“I decided to jump in on the deep end to pass bills, and what I luckily had was a crew of people” — Peters called them “do-gooder lobbyists” from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Chicago Votes and the American Civil Liberties Union — to assist him.
“I worked on bills that I tried to fix or deal with for organizations I came from like the People’s Lobby,” Peters said. “I got appointed; I need to earn my way here. I can’t just sit here in this seat. I got to show to people that I am the right person for this job, and the best way to do that is by diving into the deep end and working on progressive legislation, taking on hard issues that most freshmen don’t do and getting it done — and learn this job as soon as possible so I can be the best state senator I can be for the 13th District.”
“I need to do issues that I truly care about that I am able to move from my own story and my worldview,” Peters said. He said that he thought incarceration goes beyond just imprisonment to encompass isolation, segregation and a lack of civil services. He also introduced legislation on issues pertaining to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) because, as an adoptee, he remembers being adopted and feeling disconnected and isolated.
Senate Bill (SB) 1525 requires the DCFS to provide eligible youth with stipends, subject to appropriations, to cover apprenticeship-related costs such as fees, tuition and occupational gear. Youth who aged out of care and youth formerly under care who were adopted or placed in private guardianship are eligible, provided they are enrolled in an apprenticeship, not receiving any other departmental scholarship or fee waiver and are under age 26, though the age requirement is waived for military, Peace Corps or AmeriCorps members. Rep. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th) co-sponsored the bill in the House. The bill passed both houses unanimously.
SB 1641 requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to annually provide information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, in the language schools are required to provide to students eligible for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant. All MAP-eligible or MAP-enrolled students are to be given information about eligibility criteria for SNAP and directed to state and private nonprofit sources of information. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and 102-14 in the House.
SB 1743 requires the DCFS to develop and process a standardized survey from children who either aged or transitioned out of foster care regarding their experience with it, opinion of it and suggestions for it. DCFS would conduct the survey every five years and submit a report to the legislature every year. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
SB 1808 directs DCFS and other agencies to enter into an agreement to provide preventive services to in-care youth and aged-out young adults. An interagency liaison will review at-risk youth and connect them to supportive services and treatment programs. DCFS and the other agencies will determine how to provide such at-risk youth with housing, education and employment services, and the agencies will submit annual reports to the legislature on the number of youth who were intercepted and how they were connected, the duration of those services, the number of youth who have aged out of care. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
Peters was chief sponsor of the following House bills when they moved to the Senate.
House Bill (HB) 254, filed by Northwest Side Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th) requires the State Board of Education to make available on its website information from each school district about actively employed teachers, pupil–teacher ratios, class instructors by grade level and subject and class size, with school districts reporting the information to the State Board annually. The bill passed 86-32 in the House and 41-14 in the Senate.
HB 386, filed by South Side Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27th), requires the Department of Corrections and the Prisoner Review Board to annually publish assessments, questionnaires or other instruments used to set conditions of release, with an annual report published on their websites about the usage of electronic and GPS monitoring as conditions for parole or mandatory supervised release. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
HB 900, filed by North Side Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy (D-14th) repeals the provision that incarcerated people are responsible to reimburse the Department of Corrections for Department-determined expenses incurred by their incarceration. The bill passed 67-43 in the House and 33-18 in the Senate.
“If you’re staying in the Department of Corrections, and they believe you got money or you’ve received a large sum of money, the Department of Corrections can then sue you to pay for you being in jail,” Peters said. “And if you sue the Department of Corrections and you get a big settlement, they did have the ability then to sue you right back and say, ‘You can afford your own incarceration.’” Peters said the policy has not been utilized in four years, but he was committed to repealing it.
HB2040, also filed by Cassidy, prevents the state, sheriff, local government or their agents from detaining people in wholly or partly privately owned prisons; subsidizing any costs for building, buying or running such a facility; receiving per-prisoner per diems from such facilities; or giving any financial incentive or benefit to any entity connected with the sale, construction or operation of such a facility. Tarver co-sponsored, and the bill passed 85-26 in the House and 34-14 in the Senate.
HB2541, filed by South Side Rep. Sonya M. Harper (D-6th), requires that the departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice provide prisoners scheduled for discharge within 12 months with a civic education program taught by incarcerated peer educators. Political science and civics educators can assist nonpartisan civic organizations with providing the re-entry services. The bill passed 113-1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
HB2665, filed by South Side Rep. Lamont J. Robinson, Jr., (D-5th), enables minors at or above age 12 who may have come into contact with sexually transmitted infections, who are determined to either be intoxicated or have a substance use disorder or who have a family member who abuses drugs or alcohol to give consent for health care services or counseling related to the prevention of such issues, in addition to their diagnosis or treatment. The bill passed 62-48 in the House and 38-19 in the Senate.
HB 2723, filed by North Side Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-12th), increases the size of the Task Force on Strengthening the Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families to include a person who represents a nonprofit, statewide organization that represents private sector child welfare providers and two people who each serve as CEOs or chief administrators of private-sector child welfare providers. It requires DCFS to support the task force and to engage with the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in collecting, cataloguing and analyzing child welfare data. The Task Force will dissolve on Jan. 1, 2022. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
HB 3587, filed by Feigenholtz, requires DCFS to establish and maintain a toll-free number about its post-placement and -adoption support services, inform prospective adoptive parents and guardians about such support services and include specific information in its annual notification letter. All information shall be reviewed and updated annually, and DCFS will report annually the number of people who have received support services, the types of services provided and the length of time between initial DCFS contact and receipt of services to the legislature as well as any coordination between DCFS and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
HB 3604, filed by Tarver, provides that a vote to prohibit retail sales of alcohol in a precinct in a municipality of more than 200,000 inhabitants shall not apply to retail sales of alcohol by a specific private institution of learning or some affiliate. The bill passed the House 95-14 and 50-2 in the Senate.
House Joint Resolution 24, filed by Southwest Side Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd), supports automatic citizenship to all qualifying children adopted by a United States citizen, regardless of when the adoption was finalized, and condemns deportations of such adoptees.
Now that the session has ended, Peters intends to focus on district constituent services. “I want to meet with as many folks in the community as possible about what they care about,” he said, promising to knock doors to talk about the session as well as campaign for re-election.