(The Center Square) – Illinois lawmakers have approved a sweeping bill aimed at narrowing economic disparities affecting Black and brown communities.
The Economic Equity Act was one of 4 pillars that made up the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda, and was introduced by Democratic Representative Sonya Harper.
One part of the bill, called the Employee Background Fairness Act, calls for limiting the ability of employers to use a person’s criminal history to deny someone a job unless there is a direct relationship between the conviction and the job.
“Black people with records can’t get a job,” Harper said.
The legislation also included an interest cap on payday loans, diversity requirements in state contracting and purchasing and the removal of lead water pipes in public water systems.
“This pillar is part of the Black Caucus’ agenda to end systemic racism,” Harper said. "In this pillar, we are addressing several different areas such as banking and investment, economic mobility, small business and entrepreneurship, procurement and the Business Enterprise Program, industry-specific equity, housing, land-use gentrification, and pay equity and worker’s rights.”
Republican state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi said there were too many details left out of the legislation which could lead to future legal issues.
“I am an attorney. I deal with this kind of stuff all the time in terms of loose language and legislative statutes, and I will tell you they can lead to very unjust results,” Mazzochi said.
Republicans argued that despite the good intentions of the Black Caucus, the bill was put together hastily and is seriously flawed. Some say it will lead to costly lawsuits for employers and discourage employers from coming to Illinois.
“Throughout the nation Illinois is known as a judicial hell hole” said Republican state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer. “Litigation in the state of Illinois is out of control and the more we can make this concise, the better off we are.”
The bill now goes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is expected to sign it.