Lame-duck wrap up: New reentry legislation to expand housing and jobs access, while the House elects its first Black speaker

By Niya K. Kelly, Director of State Legislative Policy, Equity and Transformation 

Over the last week, members of the Illinois General Assembly met to take up several pieces of legislation with the state’s Legislative Black Caucus.  After holding hearings in the summer of 2020, the Caucus developed an agenda with four pillars – education, healthcare, criminal justice, and economic opportunities – all centering dismantling systemic racism in Illinois.  

As a part of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) advocated for the inclusion of two housing and employment reform bills within the economic opportunities pillar: 

The Employee Background Fairness Act (SB1480) (Rep. Harper/Sen. Belt) provides standards for employers to consider conviction records in an individual’s background. It makes discrimination based on a conviction record a civil rights violation under the Illinois Human Rights Act.  

The Public Housing Access Bill (SB1980) (Rep. Harper/Sen. Belt) creates standards for Illinois Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to use in the criminal background screening process, improving equity and access to affordable housing for individuals with criminal records. The bill shortens look-back periods and provides applicants with an opportunity to present mitigating circumstances before being denied due to their background.    

Thanks to CCH’s advocacy in partnership with our peers and legislators, both pieces of legislation included in the package passed both chambers and are awaiting Gov. Pritzker’s signature. 

CCH extends appreciation and thanks to the General Assembly’s Black Caucus, especially Representatives Sonya M. Harper and Maurice A. West, II, and Senators Christopher Belt and Jacqueline Collins, as well as two of the original bill sponsors, Representative Delia Ramirez and Senator Omar Aquino for their tireless advocacy in taking up and speaking out on these impactful and life-changing policy changes. 

CCH also supported other initiatives in the Black Caucus’s agenda including: 

  • The Predatory Loan Prevention Act (Rep. Harper/Sen. Belt) implements a 36 percent interest rate cap on consumer loans, including payday and car title loans. Illinois families pay over $500,000,000 per year in payday and title loan fees – the fourth highest in the nation. Nearly half of Illinois payday loan borrowers earn less than $30,000 per year.  Predatory lending practices drive people further into debt and widen the racial wealth gap. The legislation received bipartisan support in both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.  
  • The Pretrial Fairness Act (Sen. Sims / Rep. Slaughter) reforms the criminal legal system for people awaiting trial and ends the use of money bond. The legislation alleviates the financial burden that money bonds put on innocent families, and it ensures lack of access to wealth is never the reason people stay in jail. The Pretrial Fairness Act ensures poverty is no longer a driver of incarceration. The legislation received bipartisan support in both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.  

As we celebrate our wins, we also express disappointment in the failure of the Senate to take up the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act (Rep. Ramirez) after it passed the House. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented economic instability for renters, homeowners, and landlords across Illinois. This bill would have sealed tenants’ eviction filings and prohibited foreclosures for homeowners. The coalition working on this important legislation will refile in the spring session, with CCH continuing to support this effort.  

Lastly, the Illinois House of Representatives selected a new Speaker of the House, Representative Chris Welch. The outgoing Speaker, Mike Madigan, has held the position for nearly four decades, with only a two-year gap when the House Democrats were in the minority. Representative Welch is the first Black legislator elected as Illinois Speaker of the House. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless would like to congratulate Speaker Welch. His advocacy on homelessness issues includes chief sponsorship of CCH’s Homeless Bill of Rights and other budgetary advocacy. He always makes time to speak with our youth leaders when they visit our state capitol in Springfield.