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Employee sick leave, other measures signed into law

    A wide variety of legislation is being acted upon by Gov. Bruce Rauner this summer.
    Here is a recap.

Employee Sick Leave Act

    SPRINGFIELD – An Employee Sick Leave Act sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins, D-Chicago, has been signed into law.
    The measure requires employers to give their workers greater flexibility in the way they use their sick time. Once the new law takes effect on Jan. 1, any company that provides sick leave to employees must allow them to use up to half of their allotted time to attend to the medical needs of family members.
    Most Illinois employers that provide sick time allow their workers to use it only for themselves. But an estimated 1.5 million Illinoisans serve as caregivers for family members, and 60 percent of these caregivers also work outside the home. When employees can’t use sick time to take an elderly parent to a medical appointment or stay home with a child who has the flu, they risk losing their jobs.
    House Bill 6162 allows an employee to use up to half of his or her existing sick leave to care for a child, spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law or step-parent.

Protection of dementia patients

    SPRINGFIELD — Legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, that would create minimum training standards for residential and community-based programs that offer dementia care has been signed into law.
    Prior to the law, residential and community-based programs could advertise that they specialize in providing dementia care without being adequately trained in how to work with dementia patients.
    The initiative is necessary because some places have advertised that they are experts in dementia care without having the training to back up their claims, she said.
    The Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 210,000 Illinois residents are affected by dementia. It is anticipated that there will be a 25 percent increase in dementia patients in nine years due to the aging baby boomer population.
    Senate Bill 2301 is effective immediately.

‘Wards’ are now deemed Illinois Youth in Care

    SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an Executive Order directing all references of “ward of the state” or “ward of the Department” within the child welfare system be changed to “youth in care.” The order is a direct response to a meeting the governor had with youth in care who voiced their unease with the label. “Ward” is widely viewed by youth in care as disparaging and becomes a dominant label for their legal status, distinguishing them from other children and youth.
    Over the last year and a half, the administration has worked on many initiatives to reform the DCFS system to better respond to the needs of youth in care and families in need. Along with the Executive Order, Rauner signed four bills to further help DCFS, foster parents and youth in care address barriers for youth and allow for stronger bonds within their families and communities.
    HB 5665 amends the Children and Family Services Act to support the enrichment and immersion of youth in care into their communities. The bill provides that children who are in the care and custody of the Department of Children and Family Services are entitled to participate to the fullest extent in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural and social activities in his or her community.
    HB 5551 recognizes the important role of foster parents and expands the definition of “fictive kin” to include any individual who is the child’s foster parent.
    HB 4641 and HB 4590 establish a stronger adoption approval process for families to ensure that youth in care go to the best and most supportive homes. HB 4641 amends the Child Care Act of 1969 to require approvals of adoption-only homes by licensed child welfare agencies. Under the new law, licensed child welfare agencies must thoroughly investigate and evaluate the criminal history of homes in which an adult resident has an arrest or conviction record. HB 4590 expands the list of disclosures in the Adoption Act to include the selection of an adoptive family.

Public school breakfast expansion

    Breakfast will be available to more Illinois schoolchildren under a measure sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park.
    Senate Bill 2393 will require public elementary, middle and high schools with a student low-income rate of at least 70 percent to offer breakfast to students after the instructional day has begun.
    Each school will be able to determine the Breakfast After the Bell model that suits its students, such as breakfast in the classroom, grab and go breakfast and second-chance breakfast. Schools that participate in the program are able to capture federal money to pay for the cost of offering these meals.
    The law allows schools to be waived from the requirement if they can show that a breakfast after the bell program would be financially burdensome.
    Child poverty in Illinois is at its highest level since 1999, and about one in five Illinois children live in homes where meals aren’t guaranteed, Harmon said. About 73 percent of teachers say they have students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough food at home.
    Illinois schools that participate in breakfast programs are eligible for federal nutrition dollars. The National School Breakfast Program was established in 1966 under President Lyndon B. Johnson to provide free or low-cost breakfasts to schoolchildren.

Preparing for student asthma attacks

    SPRINGFIELD — Schools will need to take steps to have clear plans ready in the event a student suffers a severe asthma attack under a new law sponsored by state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria.
    The newly signed law requires schools to request an asthma action plan each year from parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma. The Illinois State Board of Education will also be required to develop an emergency response protocol model for asthma episodes by Sept. 1. School districts will need to adopt their response protocols by Jan. 1. School personnel who work with pupils will need to complete a training program on asthma every two years.
    The legislation was House Bill 6333.

Mental illness as a mitigating factor

    SPRINGFIELD — Responding to calls to reform the way sentencing considers a defendant’s mental state as a mitigation factor, the governor signed legislation sponsored by State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria.
    “Our understanding of mental illness grows in new ways all the time, and the way we apply sentencing should, too,” said Koehler, D-Peoria. “These reforms address the distinction between a defendant who has a legitimate claim to a plea of insanity and a convict with a serious mental illness.”
    The legislation adds the presence of a serious mental illness to the 15 existing mitigating factors courts can consider to possibly reduce sentencing. The measure aims to reduce the 6,000 individuals in Illinois correctional facilities with serious mental health issues.
    “Our prison system can’t serve as a de facto mental health facility, and to treat as such hurts our institutions as well as the inmates within them,” Koehler said. “I’m glad the governor has signed this into law and taken a step toward relieving that burden in a way that respects the findings of experts.”
    The legislation was House Bill 6037.
    It is effective immediately.

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