Paid leave for only vaccinated school staff now law as lawmakers eye other COVID policies

Paid leave for only vaccinated school staff now law as lawmakers eye other COVID policies

SPRINGFIELD, IL — A measure granting administrative leave to vaccinated school staff for COVID-19 related absences is now law.

Last year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle nearly unanimously supported a measure giving paid administrative leave related to COVID-19 to all school staff despite vaccination status. Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed the measure in January.

On a partisan vote, lawmakers sent Pritzker House Bill 1167, which gives the benefit to only vaccinated staff. Signing the bill in Springfield Tuesday, Pritzker said that provision is an incentive.

“What we’re trying to do, of course, is to encourage people to do the right thing to keep their students safe, to keep the rest of the school safe, by being vaccinated,” Pritzker said. “That’s the whole purpose of that provision in the law.”

State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, said the measure takes away a local collective bargaining issue.

“But the bigger part is we’re putting in a position where union employees are now going to be treated differently based on an arbitrary governor decision,” Wilcox told The Center Square. “So, we think that is wrong.”

The law is effective immediately.

“I’m outraged,” Springfield school teacher Kimberly Smoot told The Center Square. “This is pure discrimination based on being vaccinated or not. Those who WERE vaccinated also got COVID and used sick days. Why should they get the benefits afforded by this bill and teachers like me, who were opposed to the vaccine for whatever reason, are left out? PURE DISCRIMINATION!”

Also, a bipartisan measure to ensure a family member can be by the side of their loved one in their final moments of life while in a healthcare facility could soon be on the governor’s desk.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pritzker’s executive orders prohibited visitors to long-term care facilities while facility employees and vendors came and went. Many elderly patients died without their loved ones by their side.

“No one should have to die without a family member by their side,” state Rep. Chris Bos, R-Lake Zurich, said after his bill passed with near unanimous support Monday. “No one should have to learn their mother or their husband is suffering rapid decline but be denied the opportunity to give them love and compassion in their final moments. Unfortunately, many were denied this opportunity.”

Pritzker said he hasn’t read Senate Bill 1405, but is aware of it. He also said COVID-19 may not be the last pandemic the state has to deal with.

“We wanna make sure that whatever laws are put in place are appropriate going forward to make sure we keep particularly our most vulnerable safe, ” he said.

The measure passed the Senate unanimously, was amended in the House and passed nearly unanimously, and now returns to the Senate for concurrence.

Wilcox said nobody should die alone without family by their side as thousands did the past two years. The measure wouldn’t be necessary if the governor didn’t go it alone with executive orders the past two years, he said, and majority Democrats were complicit with the unilateral rule.

“They had the ability to call the legislature in and have hearings and so they tacitly supported the governor’s plan of action,” Wilcox said of Democratic lawmakers.

Lawmakers are scheduled in session through Friday.

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