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Illinois Senate sends Black Caucus health care overhaul and measure allowing permanent use of election drop boxes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Illinois Senate sends Black Caucus health care overhaul and measure allowing permanent use of election drop boxes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker

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A health care overhaul that represents the fourth and final piece of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ social justice agenda is headed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker after being approved Thursday in the state Senate.

The bill, approved last week in the Illinois House, follows Black Caucus-backed measures addressing criminal justice, education and the economy that were approved during the General Assembly’s January lame-duck session and signed into law by Pritzker.

Separate legislation that would allow for permanent use of ballot drop boxes — introduced for the November election due to health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic — also received final approval in the Senate on Thursday after being approved in the House last week.

The health care legislation, approved along party lines in the House and with a lone Republican yes vote in the Senate, is designed to address racial disparities in the state’s health and human services systems, problems that have been highlighted by COVID-19, said state Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the bill.

“It is imperative that the General Assembly and the people of Illinois recognize racism as a core fault of the current health and human services system so that we can begin to repair it,” Hunter said.

The legislation would permit workers to use their sick days to care for a parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparent or stepparent; require Medicaid to cover doula services for pregnant women; and make implicit bias training a continuing education requirement for health care professionals, among a host of other changes.

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The measure also would create an anti-racism commission “to identify and propose statewide policies to eliminate systemic racism and advance equitable solutions for Black and Brown people in Illinois.”

Of more immediate impact, the legislation would extend a moratorium on hospital closures through the remainder of the coronavirus public health emergency.

Republicans said that while the legislation highlights many important issues, the cost to the state — which they pegged at $12 billion, based on an estimate from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services — is too high.

“We just can’t afford it, and that’s what it really comes down to,” said GOP Sen. Steve McClure of Springfield.

With the exception of a dementia training program for adult protective services workers, the programs created in the bill would have to be funded by the legislature through the normal budget process, Hunter said.

Pritzker’s office did not respond immediately Thursday to a request for comment on the legislation, but the Democratic governor has been a strong supporter of the Black Caucus agenda.

Most recently, he signed four bills Monday that make up the group’s economic platform, which included job protections for people with past convictions and a cap on interest rates on payday loans.

Pritzker previously signed and toured the state to support a criminal justice overhaul that includes an end to cash bail and an education bill that contains provisions to try to recruit more Black teachers.

Separately, a measure from Democratic Sen. Julie Morrison of Deerfield that would make secure ballot drop boxes and curbside voting permanent fixtures of Illinois elections received a handful of Republican votes as it passed 48-7 in the Senate on Thursday. That followed a party-line vote last week in the House.

The legislature approved the changes to make voting easier and safer during the pandemic but set them to expire after the November election.

Proponents of drop boxes say they are a convenient option for voters who have concerns about trusting their ballots to the Postal Service. Curbside voting, meanwhile, makes it easier for people with disabilities or health issues to cast ballots, supporters say.

It would be up to each of the state’s 108 election jurisdictions to decide whether to permit those forms of voting.

About half of local jurisdictions used drop boxes in November, said Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, which was neutral on the bill.

After the previous law expired, the state election code became silent on whether drop boxes could be used in future elections, Dietrich said.

“They weren’t prohibited per se, but they also weren’t explicitly allowed,” he said.

The bill also makes permanent the requirement that election authorities accept mail-in ballots regardless of whether they are returned with sufficient postage.

If Pritzker signs the bill in time, the changes would be in effect for the upcoming April 6 municipal elections.

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