DeKALB – Another legislative session came and went, and another pile of bills that have gained House and Senate approval await a signature from Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Some bills promote healthier environments at the cost of local business revenues, others intend to offer financial assistance to school districts that de-escalate their law enforcement presence, and some seek to re-evaluate contract provisions for university and government officials.
A national effort to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 is one step away from being adopted in Illinois.
Senate Bill 2332, which narrowly passed both chambers, raises the age for tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and alternative nicotine products, while also eliminating the penalty for possession of a cigar, cigarette, smokeless tobacco or tobacco in any of its forms for people younger than age 18.
Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he was not pleased to see the decriminalization of tobacco possession for younger people. However, the communities that raise the age are reporting 20 percent drops in smokers younger than 18, which is why he supported the bill in the first place.
However, it would be a Class A misdemeanor for someone younger than 21 to obtain any tobacco product through the use of a fake ID.
Muhammad Mustafa, owner of Best in the Smoker’s World at 1565 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, said the decision is going to hurt his business, and it still leaves a gray area of enforcement, since he is not sure whether certain items he sells, such as incense or grinders, are included in the age limit.
Mustafa was also disappointed with the inclusion of vaping products, since about 90 percent of his customers ages 18 to 21 use e-cigarette products.
Chicago and a number of other Illinois municipalities have already joined the initiative, known as Tobacco 21, including Deerfield, Maywood, Lincolnshire, Vernon Hills, Berwyn and Buffalo Grove.
Mustafa said some of his customers have come from as far as Aurora and Naperville to buy certain products he sells that can’t be sold closer to home.
Mental health services in schools
Less than three weeks ago, a school resource officer in Dixon prevented an armed student from opening fire on a graduating class by shooting and wounding him.
However, Pritchard, said school resource officers’ function outside Chicago can be a lot different than what is observed within the city.
“A lot of what [Chicago] legislators talk about is how often a school resource officer just arrests students,” Pritchard said. “Then students get arrest records and that really spoils career opportunities and many things after high school.”
Emanuel Chris Welch, a Westchester Democrat, introduced House Bill 4208, which would establish the Safe Schools and Health Learning Environment Program, an initiative seeking to provide competitive grant funding for districts trying to reduce their reliance on law enforcement. The legislation passed both houses Thursday.
To be eligible for the special grant funding, districts will need to hire restorative justice practitioners, school psychologists, social workers and other mental or behavioral health specialists. Grant funds will not be used to increase the use of school-based law enforcement or security personnel.
In its original form, the bill stated that the General Assembly recognizes the use of school-based law enforcement has not proved effective as a strategy to promote safe and productive schools.
DeKalb School District 428 recently approved the addition of five social workers for district schools, but the benefit of school resource officers is not lost on the district.
“The responsibility of school resource officers is to promote school safety and security,” District 428 SRO Aaron Lockhart said. “But the SRO also helps to educate the students and acts as a liaison between the police, teachers, students and parents.”
Government Severance Pay Act
In response to a number of cases in recent years where government boards provided lavish severance packages to departing administrators, lawmakers approved the Government Severance Pay Act.
This bill, which received nearly unanimous approval in the House and Senate, would require that severance pay provided not exceed more than 20 weeks of compensation.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who sponsored the bill, was highly critical of the $600,000 severance package former Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker received after his resignation last June. Cullerton referred to the payout as a golden parachute to a disgraced administrator for violating taxpayer trust.
Baker resigned after a state report concluded he had mismanaged the university by offering a number lucrative consulting positions to associates and improperly classifying the positions to skirt state bidding requirements.
Under the bill, Baker would have been eligible for roughly $173,000 in severance.