Illinois News Network: Lawmakers reject plan to give churches immunity from lawsuits for housing homeless

By Cole Lauterbach

Illinois lawmakers shot down a plan to keep homeless people from suing the churches that allow them to come in from the cold.

State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, said the Kankakee churches in her district want to help homeless people to stay out of the cold, but don’t because they’re afraid of getting sued if someone gets hurt during their stay.

“My churches will not open their doors because they are afraid of being sued and having the liability, especially in the ever-growing litigious society that we live in,” she told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Her bill would have given churches sheltering the homeless a level of legal immunity from lawsuits when they take in a homeless person overnight. She said the area doesn’t have adequate shelter during dangerously cold nights. The bill would have applied to counties with fewer than 300,000 people.

Niya Kelly with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said people shouldn’t lose their right to sue just to come in from the cold.

“We don’t take that ability to sue away from someone just because you are providing that assistance,” she said.

Most of the lawmakers agreed.

“The Bible says ‘Come as you are,’ not ‘Come as you are as long as you’re not going to sue our church,’ ” said Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City.

The measure was voted down and isn’t scheduled to be reconsidered.