Illinois General Assembly Wraps up Veto Session


Members of the Illinois House and Senate completed the fall veto session on Thursday, Nov. 30, overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision on numerous pieces of legislation.

Families of those killed by Legionnaires’ Disease at a state-run veterans home in Quincy can now receive settlements up to $2 million after lawmakers voted to remove the previous $100,000 cap on Court of Claims judgments. There are 12 pending negligence lawsuits against the state that will be retroactively affected.

The veto override requirement of 71 votes was narrowly met after heated remarks on the House floor caused a stir. Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit–referring to Republican state Rep. Peter Breen, who opposed the legislation–said: “I’d like to make him a broth of legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved one, so that they can be infected, they can be mistreated, they can sit and suffer by getting aspirin instead of being properly treated, and ultimately die.” Breen responded by cursing at Kifowit, who later apologized for her remarks.

After a more civil floor debate, lawmakers voted in favor of legislation known as the VOICES Act, which helps immigrants who are victims of human trafficking and other crimes obtain special visas to remain in the U.S., as long as they cooperate with police investigations. The measure requires Illinois law enforcement to file paperwork on behalf of the victim within 90 days of the crime being reported.

The General Assembly also voted in favor of restoring a parole system in Illinois, which has not existed since the 1970s.

The bill allows people who have served 10 years of their sentence for a crime–not including first-degree murder or predatory sexual assault of a child– committed when they were under the age of 21–to appeal for parole. Those who commit aggravated criminal sexual assault may be eligible after serving 20 years. The measure does not guarantee parole, which is determined by the state’s Prison Review Board.

Another piece of criminal justice legislation tightening restrictions on the use of jailhouse informants also passed. The measure, which aims to keep innocent people out of prison, requires reliability hearings for informants in cases of murder, sexual assault, and arson. According to the Illinois Innocence Project, the state has a history of wrongful conviction, with at least 17 people incarcerated based on faulty jailhouse informant testimony.

Not all override attempts were successful. The so-called “Tobacco 21” bill– which would raise the legal age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco-related products including vaping materials–narrowly passed the Senate, but fell short in the House. The bill received 62 “yes” votes, but needed 71 to override.

Some other high-profile bills were not called for an override vote. One would raise the minimum salary for Illinois school teachers to $40,000 by the 2022-2023 school year. The current minimum salary for teachers, which was set 38 years ago, is $9,000.

Another piece of legislation would have prohibited employers from asking for an applicant’s salary history. The measure was meant to combat gender pay inequality. New versions of both bills, as well as the Tobacco 21 legislation, are expected to be introduced wh n the 101st General Assembly convenes in January.