By AARON GETTINGER
Four bills freshman legislator Robert Peters (D-13th) either filed or chief-sponsored in the Senate — on civics education for incarcerated people, stipends for apprenticeships, public schoolteacher employment data transparency and state food assistance for college students — became law last week.
On Aug. 21, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed the Re-Entering Citizens Civic Education Act, South Side Rep. Sonya Harper (D-6th) introduced to the General Assembly, at St. Leonard’s Ministries on the West Side. It provides state-incarcerated Illinoisans with peer-led civic education programs starting 12 months before their scheduled release.
In remarks at the bill’s signing, Peters recounted touring Stateville Prison with Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) earlier this summer and meeting “so many beautiful souls who are trapped behind bars.”
“I want to say to each and every one of you, we will fight with you, alongside you, for your dignity and rights,” he said. “To those who are back home today, we will fight alongside you and your loved ones to lift up our communities and lift up our state so everyone in Illinois has the justice, equity, and opportunity they deserve.”
The civics programs’ nonpartisan curricula will cover voting rights, governmental institutions and current affairs as well as simulations of voter registration, elections and other democratic processes.
Word of three more enactments came on the evening of Aug. 23.
Under Senate Bill (SB) 1525, which passed the legislature with bipartisan support, youth aging out of state care who are entering an apprenticeship could have costs associated with fees, tuition and tools covered by a stipend from the Department of Children and Family Services.
“It’s too often a person who otherwise wants to start an apprenticeship and take the first steps toward self-sustainability is unable to because they can’t afford the upfront cost of starting an apprenticeship,” Peters said in a statement. “This could result in them having no choice but to find a job in a field with lower wages or fewer benefits.
“Youth in care often lead difficult lives, and we should strive to make it easier for the kids aging out of the system by tearing down the systemic barriers that hold them back,” he said.
House Bill 254, filed by Northwest Side Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th), requires Illinois school districts to report teacher employment data, including student-teacher ratios and the number of teachers employed in the district, to the State Education Board by Nov. 16.
“Public school class sizes have been growing larger and larger over the last several years, which makes it harder for educators to provide quality education,” Peters said in a statement. “Communities of color are hit particularly hard by this. These students are already at a systemic disadvantage, and they deserve to have the opportunity to learn the skills they need to succeed.”
And SB 1641 requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to flag college students who could be eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and advertise the program formerly known as food stamps. South Side Rep. Nicholas K. Smith (D-34th) chief-sponsored in the House.
“There are a lot of students who struggle to find their next meal because they’re not ever aware they’re eligible for SNAP benefits,” Peters said in a statement. “In the richest country in the world, college students going hungry is unacceptable. This also results in fewer people being able to financially justify attending our colleges and universities. Simply raising awareness of the benefits students are entitled to can go a long way in helping address this issue.”