New Illinois Laws Remove Employment Barriers for People with Criminal Records

(Chicago) – Job seekers with past justice involvement have new opportunities for employment this year, thanks to a series of bills passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016. These measures, which TASC supported, reduce or eliminate a number of employment barriers for individuals with past offenses.

These new measures include: restoring hiring discretion to employers by removing lifetime bans on jobs in schools and park districts; removing a similar ban on licensure to qualify for certain healthcare jobs; removing “red flags” on the State’s healthcare worker registry for jobs in the field that do not require licenses; and prohibiting professional licensure denials in seven specific occupations solely because the applicant has a criminal record unrelated to the occupation.

Together, these initiatives improve opportunities for people with prior justice involvement to work and earn income to support their families, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities.

“These laws help remove some of the lasting employment barriers that have hindered people long after they have paid their debt to society,” said Laura Brookes, TASC’s policy director. “We congratulate everyone who led and supported these measures.”

HB 4360, sponsored by State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14) and State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-5), removes the lifetime ban on employment in schools for individuals with controlled substance convictions or misdemeanor cannabis, prostitution, or public indecency records, replacing the controlled substances ban with a seven-year waiting period. SB 3005, sponsored by State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16) and Representative Cassidy, makes similar changes with regard to employment within local park districts. Further, the bill removes the permanent ban on park district jobs for people adjudicated for a drug offense as a juvenile.

SB 42 and HB 4515 remove barriers to jobs in healthcare for people with criminal records. SB 42 removes a lifetime ban on licenses for healthcare jobs from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) for individuals with certain offense records, replacing it with a three- or five-year ban instead, depending on circumstances. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) and State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-78), enables IDFPR discretion to decide whether to grant a license in any particular case. Rep. Lilly and Senator Don Harmon (D-39) sponsored HB 4515, which changes the focus of the Health Care Worker’s Registry to an individual’s ability to work and not whether or not he or she has obtained a waiver, which in some cases has acted as a “red flag” hindering employment opportunities rather than opening them up. The law also removes misdemeanor cannabis crimes from the list of disqualifying offenses.

HB5973, sponsored by State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-33) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13), removes barriers to employment in barbering, cosmetology, esthetics, hair braiding, nail technology, roofing, and funeral service for people with criminal records.

Advocacy for the school, park district, and healthcare employment bills was driven by FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality), an initiative of the Community Renewal Society led by people with records and their families and faith communities to “create change and seek justice for people with records,” and RROCI (Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois), led by Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. The occupational licensure bill was a joint initiative of the Safer Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute.

 

 

TASC Joins Partners in West Side Heroin Task Force to Address Chicago’s Opiate Epidemic

(Chicago) – TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams joined other members of the new West Side Heroin Task Force assembled on International Overdose Awareness Day to announce findings of a study on the impact of heroin in Chicago’s west side neighborhoods.

The Roosevelt University study, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Heroin’s Impact on Chicago’s West Side,” found that while media coverage of the current epidemic has focused on “the new face of heroin”—white, suburban or rural users—the west side for many years has been ground zero of the crisis and its consequences.

“To continue to ignore the west side of Chicago is like a firefighter putting out a fire in part of the house and leaving the house burning,” said State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8) at the August 31 press conference. The task force, led by Ford and comprised of dozens of partners and organizations, including TASC, will support and intensify existing efforts in the fight against heroin.

Long considered to be a place where people with heroin addictions travel from the suburbs and other parts of Chicago to get their drugs and leave, “the city’s west side actually is a hotbed for heroin hospitalizations, arrests and deaths,” Roosevelt University’s news announced.

State Rep. Camille Y. Lilly, (D-78), vice president of external affairs at Loretto Hospital, highlighted broader community issues related to the heroin crisis. “The overdosing is the outcome of other factors and issues that are going on in our society. People are using drugs to deal with life, lack of jobs, lack of money, lack of housing, lack of healthcare,” she said. “Policy is what’s going to make the difference, and how we fund the policies that are enhancing the lives of individuals.”

Task force member Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, authored the study, which found that opioid-related hospital admissions of Chicagoans on the west side constitute almost one in four such hospitalizations across Illinois. Additionally, heroin possession arrest rates in these neighborhoods continue to exceed those in other parts of the city, even increasing during times of overall citywide decline.

Further, the study indicated that the Chicago metro area experienced the second greatest decline in publicly funded drug treatment admissions among all state metro areas, falling by 61 percent over the past 5 years.

The study found that recent heroin overdose rates were higher in Chicago than in suburban Cook, Will, Lake, McHenry, DuPage, and Kane counties, and the overdose mortality rate across the state was significantly higher for African Americans (8.94 per 100,000 population) than for whites (5.86).

The report includes recommendations to increase community-based treatment, reclassify drug possession related to small amounts as a misdemeanor offense, and provide medication-assisted treatment to individuals incarcerated in Cook County jail, among others.

Joining fellow task force members to release the report, Williams noted that the world is moving to a platform of public health, and not a criminal justice response to heroin addiction.

“Everyone deserves the right to their life and to live,” said Williams. “That’s why we need the necessary services that our state reps, particularly Representative Lilly and Representative Ford have fought for… to continue to make sure that the west side does not continue to be the epicenter, but the west side becomes the model of how the community has gathered together and interrupted men and women and families and communities losing their lives when it’s not necessary.”

Ford advocated that resources, services, and cutting-edge programs be directed to residents, and also encouraged funding for House Bill 1, a comprehensive measure to fight heroin.

In addition to Ford, Willis, and Williams, speakers at the press conference included Dr. Sonia Mehta, CEO of Loretto Hospital; Jacqui Colyer, regional administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services; Dr. Dan Lustig, vice president of clinical services at Haymarket Center; Jamelia Hand, overdose prevention advocate; Marianne Schiavone, chairperson of West Suburban Hospital; Doris Davenport, president of the Center of Community Connections; and Chelsea Laliberte, executive director of Live4Lali.

George A. H. Williams, TASC vice president of community and government affairs.

George A. H. Williams, TASC vice president of community and government affairs, speaking at the August 31, 2016 press conference.

Lawmakers Dennis Reboletti, Adam Brown, Mattie Hunter Open Way for Seized Drug Money to Help Fund Addiction Treatment

(Chicago, IL) – A bi-partisan group of Illinois state lawmakers this year opened the door to a possible new source of funding for addiction treatment agencies: money seized from drug dealers.

The legislation, House Bill 2048, was introduced by State Representative Dennis Reboletti (R-Addison) and sponsored by State Representative Adam Brown (R-Decatur) and State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago). It empowers local state’s attorneys with the discretion to make grants to Illinois treatment agencies and half-way houses from the monies and the sale proceeds of all other property forfeited and seized under state drug laws.

The bill, which won unanimous support from both legislative chambers, was signed by Governor Pat Quinn on August 4.

“As government budgets for substance abuse treatment continue to shrink, it is deeply encouraging that lawmakers can work together to develop creative solutions to address the need for treatment funding,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).

“The gap between the treatment need and availability is widening,” added Rodriguez. “I want to thank Representative Reboletti, Representative Brown, and Senator Hunter for their hard work and Governor Quinn for approving the new law, which is a step toward reducing that gap.”

The new public act is a direct outcome of recommendations made by the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, a statewide, bipartisan group established in 2008 to examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups.

The Commission’s final report, released to the Illinois legislature in December 2010, recommended that local jurisdictions define a fixed portion, or criteria that would trigger the allocation of a portion, of existing drug asset forfeiture funds to support treatment and diversion programs in addition to enforcement and prosecution activities.

In addition to Brown and Reboletti, House sponsors included State Representatives Connie Howard (D), Jim Sacia (R), Chapin Rose (R), Esther Golar (D), Rita Mayfield (D), LaShawn Ford (D), Monique Davis (D), and Camille Lilly (D).

In addition to Hunter, Senate sponsors included State Senators Jacqueline Collins and Donne Trotter.

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2012.

TASC, Inc. has a 35-year history of promoting social justice and providing alternatives to incarceration in Illinois. TASC’s Racial Justice Initiative, including dissemination of the findings of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, has received generous support from The Chicago Community Trust.

Governor Pat Quinn Approves Law to Improve Employment Chances for Former Offenders

(Chicago, IL) – Governor Pat Quinn has approved an additional mission for a state employment oversight panel: review existing job regulations that could be revised to help former offenders get jobs.

Quinn signed legislation, House Bill 297, that directs the Illinois Task Force on Inventorying Employment Restrictions to submit to his office and the Illinois General Assembly findings and recommendations regarding employment restrictions–not related to public safety–that could be changed to improve job opportunities for those have paid their debt to society.

Sponsored by State Representative Connie Howard (D-Chicago) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the new law requires all state agencies under the Governor to produce a report describing restrictions that could be eased or be eliminated based on criminal records for each occupation under their offices.

“Ultimately, the new law may help remove a barrier to employment for qualified applicants who’ve been involved in the justice system,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).

“Discriminating against qualified job applicants is no way to boost employment or reduce recidivism,” added Rodriguez. “Fortunately, Represenative Howard, Senator Raoul and Governor Quinn recognize that employment discrimination will not move the state forward.”

In addition to Representative Howard, House sponsors included State Representatives Mary Flowers (D), Monique Davis (D), Marlow Colvin (D), and Camille Lilly (D).

In addition to Senator Raoul, State Senator Donne Trotter (D) co-sponsored the legislation.

The task force will report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly by September 1, 2012.

Racial Justice: Gov. Pat Quinn OKs Panel to Tackle African-American Economic, Social Disparities

(Chicago, IL) – To address economic and social inequalities faced by African Americans in Illinois, the state legislature this year overwhelmingly approved and Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation that creates the Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African-American Community.

The measure, House Bill 1547, sponsored by State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) and State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), charges the new 31-member, unpaid panel to research and make policy recommendations regarding disparities facing African Americans in areas of health care, employment, education, criminal justice, and housing.

“Representative Davis and Senator Hunter deserve credit for spearheading this important racial justice legislation,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).

“Racial justice demands that Illinois have a comprehensive strategy for ending current social and economic disparities faced daily by African Americans, disparities which have only deepened with onset of the economic crisis in 2008,” Rodriguez added.

In addition to Representative Davis, House sponsors included State Representatives Cynthia Soto (D), Annazette Collins (D), Camille Lilly (D), LaShawn Ford (D), Eddie Lee Jackson (D), Charles Jefferson (D), Susana Mendoza (D), Greg Harris (D), Mary Flowers (D), Marlow Colvin (D), Lisa Dugan (D), Patrick Verschoore (D), and Robert Rita (D).

In addition to Senator Hunter, Senate sponsors included State Senators Jacqueline Collins (D) and Donne Trotter (D).

The commission, which will make its recommendations to the Illinois General Assembly by December 31, 2013, will hold at least one public hearing.

To Combat Discrimination, Illinois Judges Can Now Seal Arrest, Trial Records of Persons Innocent, Acquitted of Criminal Charges

(Chicago, IL) – Discrimination can haunt even the innocent. Job seekers who have been arrested for a felony crime, but found innocent still face discrimination when seeking employment and housing because the original arrest record has been required to be a public record.

Until now.

Thanks to new, bi-partisan legislation, House Bill 298, sponsored by State Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago) and State Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and approved by Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois judges now have the discretion to seal felony arrest and trial records that ended in either dismissal or acquittal of charges or reversal of a conviction.

“Denying a job or an apartment to an innocent person is discrimination,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).  “This law will help advance social justice in both employment and housing.”

Rodriguez also praised the law’s sponsors and the Governor.

“Representative Howard, Senator Lightford,  the bill’s co-sponsors, and Governor Quinn have rendered a public service to those who face employment and housing discrimination,” said Rodriguez.

In addition to Howard, House sponsors included State Representatives Mary Flowers (D), Marlow Colvin (D), Robyn Gabel (D), Al Riley (D), Lisa Dugan (D), Patrick Verschoore (D) Camille Lilly (D), Arthur Turner (D), La Shawn Ford (D), Rita Mayfield (D), Patricia Bellock (R), and Derrick Smith (D).

In addition to Lightford, Senate sponsors included State Senators Jacqueline Collins (D) Mattie Hunter (D), Thomas Johnson (R), Kwame Raoul (D), Iris Martinez (D), Donne Trotter (D), Toi Hutchinson (D) and Emil Jones, III (D).

The new law reflects one of the 10 key recommendations made by the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, a statewide, bipartisan group established in 2008 to examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups. The Commission’s final report, released to the Illinois legislature in December 2010, recommended that the State prohibit the inclusion of drug-related arrests that do not result in conviction in criminal histories collected for employment-related purposes.

The law, signed by Quinn on August 19, is effective immediately.

TASC, Inc. has a 35-year history of promoting social justice and providing alternatives to incarceration in Illinois. TASC’s Racial Justice Initiative, including dissemination of the findings of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, has received generous support from The Chicago Community Trust.