SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers began working through mountains of proposed legislation this week as a Friday deadline approaches for bills to pass out of their original committees.
As of Tuesday, March 7 more than 6,500 bills had been introduced in the 2023 session. While many of those bills could miss that deadline, there are multiple ways to work around regular deadlines to pass the substantive language of a bill at a future date.
Below are a few of the bills discussed at the Capitol Tuesday.
Hotel owners in Illinois said Tuesday they want state lawmakers to pass legislation to protect their front-line workers from the increasingly common threat of verbal abuse from their customers and guests.
That was one part of a legislative agenda that the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association unveiled as the industry continues efforts to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, we have seen a troubling trend in which service industry workers are facing abuse from customers,” association president and CEO Michael Jacobson said during a news conference. “While this is not unique to the hotel industry, it is important that hotels are able to take necessary steps to keep employees safe and foster a positive working environment.”
Several industries, including hotels, restaurants and airlines, have reported a rise in customer harassment of their employees in recent years. In Chicago, the problem became so bad that in 2018, the city enacted an ordinance requiring hotels to issue panic buttons to hotel housekeeping staff who are assigned to work alone.
The association said it wants legislation that would specifically authorize hotels to remove guests or deny them accommodations when they engage in harassing behavior. Jacobson said no such law exists in Illinois today, which he said could put businesses in legal jeopardy if they try to remove someone from their property.
The industry is also asking for relief from a relatively new and growing form of competition – short-term property rental services such as Airbnb which don’t have to charge and remit state bed taxes the way hotels and motels do.
Jacobson said the industry wants the state to require businesses like Airbnb to charge their guests the same 6 percent bed tax – officially known as the Hotel Operators’ Occupation Tax – as hotels do. Revenue from that tax is earmarked for several purposes primarily related to convention and tourism promotion.
As local election officials face a critical shortage of election judges, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would offer incentives to college students who agree to work at the polls on Election Day.
House Bill 995 passed unanimously out of the House Ethics and Elections Committee Tuesday. It would require community colleges and public universities to adopt policies for awarding academic credit for election judges, although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daniel Didech, D-Buffalo Grove, said it is written to give schools flexibility in what policies they adopt.
Lake County Clerk Anthony Vega, who is supporting the bill, said it’s a way to get more young people involved in the democratic process and instill confidence in the integrity of elections.
“Inadequate staffing at the polls will result in a degrading voter experience that may very well discourage voters from participating in the process and play into the extremist movement which seeks to undermine the integrity of our electoral process,” he said. “The bill is not a golden solution. But it is an added tool for us to be able to recruit and retain election judges across Illinois.”
Vega noted that Illinois already allows high school students to serve as election judges to meet their civics requirement. But he said most other election judges are either retired or professionals whose employers give them the flexibility to take time off for an election.
Since 2020, Vega said, Lake County has operated with 25 to 40 percent fewer election judges than it needs for optimal operation.
The House Ethics and Elections Committee also heard testimony to give the Illinois secretary of state more authority to register voters.
In many other states, the secretary of state is the chief election officer. But in Illinois, that job is assigned to the Illinois State Board of Elections, and the secretary’s role is limited to offering voter registration when people come in for a driver’s license or to conduct other business with the office.
House Bill 3794, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, would remove that restriction and allow secretary to offer voter registration at any driver services facility or mobile site to any qualified individual without having to perform any other services or transactions. It would also allow the secretary of state to offer voter registration applications through an online website maintained by that office.
The bill provides that the secretary of state’s office would coordinate with the State Board of Elections to attend citizen naturalization ceremonies at each federal district court in Illinois to offer voter registration services there as well.
The committee took no action on the bill. But Chairman Maurice West II, D-Rockford, said it is one of several bills that could be folded into an “omnibus” elections bill later in the session.