By AARON GETTINGER
The Center for Racial & Gender Equality, a Chicago African American civil rights nonprofit, gave “C” grades Reps. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th) and Kambium Buckner (D-26th) and an “A” to Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) for their work in the spring legislative session. Legislators received points for introducing, co-sponsoring or voting for bills the Center said “would systematically benefit Black Illinoisans,” with deductions for voting against the bills.
Introducing the bills gave legislators the most points, and only 11 members of the General Assembly received “A” ratings.
The report took account of voting records on 23 bills pertaining to criminal justice, the re-entry to society of formerly incarcerated people, police reform, workers’ rights, economic justice and fair democracy. Many bill were introduced and referred to a committee, where they eventually died.
All three Hyde Park-Kenwood legislators were active in many of these areas. All three voted for — and Tarver co-sponsored — a bill that prevents the departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice from charging inmates “prohibitive” co-pays for health care. Tarver voted for the bill Peters introduced to preclude the Department of Corrections from charging inmates for the cost of their incarceration, but Buckner did not vote on it, citing an excused absence.
Both Tarver and Buckner voted for legislation that would have prohibited colleges and universities from inquiring about applicants’ prior convictions during admissions, but the bill failed 40-60, and the Senate did not consider it. Nor did the Senate consider a bill that woul;d have banned the use of electronic monitoring for individuals who completed full prison terms, though it passed the House 62-49 with Tarver’s and Buckner’s support. Peters was its chief Senate sponsor.
None of the police reform measures the Center supported were taken up for votes in either chamber, but Peters, Tarver and Buckner all supported another bill banning local governments from enacting “right to work” legislation that requires employees to join unions or pay dues under collective bargaining agreements.
Likewise, all three voted for the constitutional amendment that would establish a progressive income tax in Illinois and legislation that would enable Illinoisans who are ineligible for federal college financial aid to qualify for state and public institutional aid. They voted to establish a polling place in Cook County Jail, to improve vote-by-mail procedures in jails elsewhere and to require prisons to provide inmates with voting eligibility information.
Buckner co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill that would have increased the property value threshold for felony theft from $500 to $2,000 as well as the unsuccessful “Eliminate Racial Profiling Act,” which would have tasked law enforcement agencies and the Illinois Attorney General to systematically root out racial profiling, allowing victims to sue for declaratory or injunctive relief.
Tarver and Buckner both co-sponsored legislation that would have required the Department of Human Rights to establish a telephone hotline and online portal for workers to anonymously report racial discrimination and harassment, which was unsuccessful.
Peters co-sponsored unsuccessful legislation that would have required employers in Illinois to provide full-time employees with at least five annual sick days.
While many observers praised the General Assembly for the work it did with overwhelming Democratic control of the state government, the Center took a dim view. It attacked the exclusion of tipped and younger workers from the state’s minimum wage increase to $15 and the provision of marijuana legalization that would have automatically expunged certain convictions from criminal records, which failed to pass.
Tarver in particular was clear about his disappointment that the legalization precluded automatic expungement for prior marijuana-related offenses, and Buckner has pledged to fix the legislation should the need arise.