SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) issued the following statement on the passage of a balanced budget:

Senator Steans gives a speech on the Senate floor before the budget package passes“I am heartened that after years of negotiations, compromise and discussion that we passed a complete and balanced budget to end the historic impasse today. I proudly supported this bipartisan legislation.

“This budget will ensure that schools open on time, that vulnerable Illinoisans receive the social services they need and that our universities will finally receive funding. It includes revenue and reforms to sustain the state and reduces spending. It will also allow the state to pay down our backlog of bills so that social service organizations, universities, hospitals, nursing homes and small businesses can receive payment for their services.

“It has been a long road to get to this point. So many Illinoisans have been negatively impacted by the impasse. Though there is more work to repair what has been broken, this is a giant step toward securing fiscal stability for the state of Illinois.

“I encourage the governor to sign this legislation as soon as it reaches his desk. It’s time to put partisanship aside and do what’s right for the state. Illinoisans cannot wait any longer for the impasse to end.”

Senator Steans fights for direct support personnel on the Senate floorStacey Fountain works 12-hour shifts caring for five to eight women with developmental disabilities in Chicago. She cooks and cleans for them, distributes their medication, and teaches them how to perform routine household tasks such as folding their clothes and sweeping the floor.

Fountain is their sole caregiver while on duty and earns $11.23 an hour – just $1 more than the $10.22 hourly wage she earned when she took the job four years ago. The job can be demanding, she said, but it’s also rewarding. Often when she arrives to begin her shift, the women clap because they are so excited to see her.

“It’s hard work, but it’s a blessing to have a job,” said Fountain, a 45-year-old mother who also cares for her own mother in their West Rodgers Park home and struggles to make ends meet each month. “It’s important to even be able to work these days.”

Legislation that advanced out of the Illinois Senate today could help Fountain and other direct support workers like her earn a better living for the work they do.

Senate Bill 955 would raise the wages for direct support personnel to $15-an-hour. The legislation passed 36 to 20. Currently, starting salaries for direct support personnel are $9.30 and staff vacancy rates have reached 25 percent.

“Gov. Rauner vetoed our last effort to raise wages for these workers saying the state can’t afford it, even though half of the cost to increase direct support personnel wages would come from federal reimbursement,” Steans said. “These are challenging jobs, and these frontline workers deserve a wage that is commensurate with the experience they have and the compassionate work they do.”

Fountain said a $15-per-hour wage would make an enormous difference in her life. Her current wage barely enables her to live paycheck to paycheck. She has struggled to pay her bills on time, and once she was unable to get to work because she did not have gas in her car or any money to fill up.

Illinois direct support personnel have not received a raise in nearly a decade and are paid among the lowest wages in the nation for comparable work. Low wages are among the reasons why Illinois facilities have had difficulty attracting and retaining qualified staff, leading to high staff turnover and vacancy rates. Fountain and other direct support personnel are often required to work overtime due to staff shortages.

As a result, many clients have had difficulty finding group homes in which to live because providers do not have enough staff to care for residents.

“This is an unacceptable cycle that deserves the governor’s attention,”  Steans said.

“Today the Senate sent the governor a strong message by passing this legislation with a veto-proof majority,” she said. “I will work with my colleagues in the House to ensure that the governor hears our message loud and clear. It’s time for direct support personnel to be paid a living wage.”

Senator Steans and witnessess testify on the ERAIllinois can play a vital role in ensuring generations of women and men across the nation enjoy equal rights – a notion that is far from guaranteed under the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, State Senator Heather Steans said Tuesday.

“I am proud to champion the fight for gender equality by sponsoring SJRCA 4, which ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This legislation could be voted out of committee as soon as this week, which would make us one step closer to making the 28th Amendment a reality,” said Steans, a Chicago Democrat.

Steans’ remarks were made prior to the Illinois Women’s March on Springfield, which was expected to draw women and men from across the state to rally for progressive issues including equal rights, raising the minimum wage and protecting a woman’s right to choose.

Steans said she is excited about Illinois’ chance to play an historic role in the fight for gender equality. Illinois could be the 37th out of 38 states needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment for it to become enshrined in the Constitution.

“There is currently no federal constitutional provision that guarantees equality on the basis of sex. With recent executive orders and a Republican-controlled Congress, it is now more important than ever to make Illinois the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment,” she said.

“We need to protect the advances we have made toward gender equality by providing a strong legal footing against any rollbacks to legislation like the Equal Pay Act and Title IX.”

Senator Steans in a committee hearingAs the movement to legalize recreational marijuana gains popularity in Illinois, State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) heard testimony addressing best practices for regulation and taxation on Wednesday, April 19 from experts around the country. This hearing was the first in a series that will address the wide variety of concerns regarding their legislation that would allow Illinois residents to possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and purchase marijuana products at licensed and regulated facilities.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Steans said. “Taxing legalized recreational marijuana would have a huge impact on the state both in the form of new revenue and in job creation. Last year alone, 18,000 jobs were created in Colorado due to the marijuana industry.”  

Karmen Hanson from the National Conference of State Legislatures explained the process of implementing a tax structure and regulations in states that have already legalized recreational marijuana during her testimony. In the past year, Colorado has received nearly $200 million in revenue from the tax generated through over $1 billion in marijuana sales.

“Hearing about the experiences of policymakers who worked through the issues that appeared during the process of legalizing marijuana in other states will help us create a plan that will proactively address these concerns,” Cassidy said. “Our state desperately needs the revenue that would be brought in by the taxation of cannabis, so I look forward to continuing the conversation in the coming months.”

The legislation will include a number of public safety and regulatory measures. Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal, and strict rules would ensure marijuana products would not be accessible to people under 21. Smoking marijuana in public would also be prohibited.

“Colorado takes its responsibility to regulate marijuana very seriously,” Barbara Brohl, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue said. “Tax revenue and license fees fund our regulatory costs as well as allows the state to address some social consequences of use that otherwise might be difficult to address. We remain proactive in our regulatory approach, and work very closely with all of our stakeholders to carefully balance public safety and burden on the industry, which ensures that as issues arise we can address them quickly and flexibly.”

The sponsors plan to hold additional subject matter hearings throughout the spring to hear from other individuals and organizations.

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