By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – When the Illinois Legislature reconvenes after a general election, it is known as the “veto session” because it gives legislators a chance to override vetoes of important bills.
This year is no exception and should prove important in the long run to Labor interests.
The Illinois Senate already has begun the process by overriding vetoes of four bills proposed by Labor supporters:
- SB 2964 would improve the way prevailing wages are determined by local officials and protect against administration attempts to undercut them.
- SB 2536 and SB 2931 would provide much-needed pay raises to the state’s child-care and home health care workers, plus training and an improved health insurance program.
- SB 250 would institute automatic voter registration for people doing business in state offices such as driver’s license offices, adding an estimated two million new voters starting in 2018.
The overrides, of course, needed to be matched in the House, where the Democratic majority needs almost unanimous voting to override vetoes issued by Gov. Bruce Rauner. That has been a difficult but not impossible proposition in Rauner’s term thus far.
The Rauner administration has delayed attempts to update prevailing wage levels for a year and a half. They affect construction workers on publicly funded projects.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, would have the wage rates based on collective bargaining agreements when at least 30 percent of those in a particular trade or occupation are under a collectively bargained contract. That would strengthen workers’ position in the setting of the wages.
Rauner vetoed the bill over the summer and the Senate overrode the veto, leaving it up to the House. Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview), a well-established Rauner foe within the party for supporting Labor issues, joined the majority in voting to override. When it passed the House in May, 72 members voted in favor. It now needs 71 to override the veto.
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HEALTH, CHILD CARE
The overrides of the child care and home health care bills would boost both groups of workers to at least $15 an hour, with required orientation and training and a better health insurance program.
Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said the bills are important both for working families and people with disabilities.
“The working families of Illinois who rely on affordable child care to have a shot in this economy and the people with disabilities who rely on home health care to remain in their homes and communities can be grateful to the Senators who stood up to Bruce Rauner’s attack on their leader to economic opportunity and to their welfare and peace of mind,” he said.
“Ensuring that state child care and home health care workers receive adequate training and health insurance – not to mention an actual living wage – is an important step and, also, is a matter of justice for a workforce constituted primarily of women and people of color.”
Kelleher noted that the workers have gone 19 months without a contract.
“With the bills in the hands of the House, now is a good time for lawmakers of all parties to put aside partisan finger-pointing and stand up for those programs that provide the best chance to restore a brighter future for the children of Illinois and their working families, as well as to honor the principle of independence and choice that underlie the home health care system,” he said.
A reliable Labor supporter, Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) is the leading proponent for the voter registration bill.
“I thank my colleagues for their support on this important override,” he said. “Automatically registering people to vote is an idea that is gaining traction all over the country, as we saw just last week when Alaska voters got on board.
“It just makes sense in every regard. State government has the technology and the know-how to make voter registration a seamless and secure process for busy Illinoisans.”
Rauner cited concerns about vote fraud in issuing the veto and asking Republicans to try to sustain it, even if they voted for the bill in the first place. Manar said such fraud is an unlikely scenario.
“No amount of disproven right-wing conspiracy theories about voter fraud and illegal immigrants flooding the polls change the fact that voters and taxpayers expect their government to work for them, not the other way around,” he said.
“Illinois’ early voting and same-day voter registration figures are proof that people want to participate at the ballot box, and they want to do so in a way that is modern, convenient and as simple as possible. Why shouldn’t we make that happen for them?”
McCann was the only Republican who voted to override.
The registration would occur in the Secretary of State Driver Services and Vehicle Services departments and the follow state government departs: Human Services, Healthcare & Family Services, Employment Security Office, and Aging. The State Board of Elections could designate other state or federal offices willing to submit information.
“This bill improves the accuracy and integrity of our voter rolls, saves money, increases voter participation, and eliminates unnecessary bureaucracy,” Manar noted. “It's common sense.”
Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut have already adopted the plan.
Christian Diaz, director of Chicago Votes, told the website ThinkProgress that increasing voter participation is crucial following a national election marked by low turnout and voter suppression.
“There’s a rising electorate in this country that threatens the current power structure,” he said. “A lot of the hateful rhetoric we heard this election cycle was connected to this fear.”
Diaz said states implementing voting restrictions, like Wisconsin, saw reduced turnout while states with automatic voter registration had record participation.
“For many communities, voting now feels like a life or death decision,” he said. “We need to make sure voting is accessible and available to every single citizen who wants to participate.”